Ian Bell on the Ashes: It is surreal to hear myself compared with my heroes
View From the Middle: At tea the game was slipping away from us. The runs were leaking
Wednesday 14 August 2013
When the time comes to reflect on this series and my career in the game, I know the summer of 2013 will always be very special. As a boy you grow up dreaming of playing in the big games and providing the important contributions to help your country win them. To have had the chance to do that in an Ashes series is a privilege and pretty much represents the fulfilment of many of my dreams.
It is surreal to hear my name linked to the likes of David Gower after scoring three centuries in a home Ashes series. In the same way, it is hard to take in the fact that I now have 20 Test centuries – more than some of my heroes. Such things make my head spin, really. I'll think about them when my career is over, but there is a lot of unfinished business to take care of before that.
There were lots of heroes at Durham. Stuart Broad was the obvious one after he produced one of the great spells of Ashes bowling on the fourth evening. It reminded me of Andrew Flintoff at his best. When Broad gets it right, hitting that full-ish length, at that pace and with a sharp bouncer every so often to keep the batsman unwilling to commit to the front foot, he really is a daunting prospect.
Fielding at short leg, or slightly behind short leg as I was, the ball was coming on fast and I could see how uncomfortable some of Australia's batsmen were. It was one of the best spells of fast bowling I've seen.
Tim Bresnan also enjoyed a fantastic game. His runs on the fourth morning made a huge difference in the context of a low-scoring game and he supported Broad superbly with the ball. Graeme Swann, too, contributed with bat and ball as he so often does.
And then there is Alastair Cook. At the tea interval the game was slipping away from us. The runs were leaking at three or four an over and the batsmen looked disconcertingly comfortable.
But Cook is exceptional in those situations. So calm, so clear. He brought the team together at tea and spoke about our plans. He and Andy Flower made it all so clear and simple. That interval probably came at just the right time for us. We had a reset and we went out with renewed energy and focus.
It's easy to talk about what you're going to do, of course. Actually having the skills to execute those plans is another thing entirely. But the bowlers were excellent after tea, bowling a fraction fuller, with brilliant accuracy, and a nine-wicket session tells its own story. They built the pressure until Australia snapped. It was a wonderful atmosphere for those last couple of hours.
It would be hard to overstate how important Cook's influence has been in our dressing room and on my own batting.
People may recall an innings I played in the Test in Ahmedabad last winter. A brief but memorable innings: I came down the wicket to my first ball – my first ball of the series, in fact – and tried to hit the left-arm spin of Pragyan Ojha over the top. Instead I was caught at mid-off. It must have looked terrible.
It was a period when I was confused and lacking in confidence. I had some stuff going on at home and I had lost confidence in my own defensive technique. My mind wasn't where it should have been. While the stroke may have looked confident, it was actually exactly the opposite. It was the shot of a man who had lost the confidence to trust himself to survive long enough to build an innings. I was trying to assert myself by playing that shot. I should have asserted myself by batting for several hours.
Cook helped me get over that. The knock he played in the second innings of that game, a truly great one in a desperate situation, showed what could be achieved if we gave ourselves a chance – if we battled at the start, backed our defensive technique and wore the bowlers down. He reminded me what it meant to build a proper innings. His batting on that tour was some of the best I've seen in Test cricket.
He has been just the same in the dressing room. Whatever the situation – and in any Ashes series the dressing room can get pretty tense – he has exuded calm confidence. However tight the match situation, it has been great in there and Cook has to take much of the credit for that.
We still haven't played at our best in this series. Our game plan involves batting for 140 overs in the first innings, building an imposing total and letting our bowlers go to work. In this series, we've either left ourselves with lots to do in our second innings or asked a huge amount from our bowlers. We should be making life a bit easier for ourselves.
We gave Nathan Lyon four wickets in our first innings in Durham. He's a decent bowler but on that pitch in the first innings we shouldn't have been losing four wickets to him. We batted poorly and I was as guilty as anyone.
There is no need for our top order to hurry. Experience tells us that if we bat long enough, the runs will start to flow and our middle and lower-order contains some free-flowing players who love to put bat to ball. The job of some of us higher up the order is to wear down the bowlers and build a platform.
There will be no letting up on Australia at The Oval. We have too much respect for them. We know that this series could so easily have gone the other way. The Trent Bridge Test was close and, in my view, we were saved by the rain at Old Trafford. We can't allow them to build any momentum ahead of the return series in Australia. If the boot was on the other foot, they would not stop kicking us.
Besides, any time that you represent your country is important. So there is no danger of any complacency.
To read Ian Bell's column in full, visit the world's leading cricket website espncricinfo.com
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