Ian Bell: Steyn may be fierce but I'm out to tame my old Bears team-mate
View From the Middle: Cape Town was one of my most satisfying moments in an England shirt
Thursday 19 July 2012
England against South Africa is almost on a par with the Ashes in terms of excitement and competitiveness, so it's a shame it is only a three-Test series. It deserves four matches, maybe even five.
Whenever you play South Africa, you know you'll be in for a really tough contest. These are the best two bowling teams in the world and two pretty good batting units as well, so both sides are full of strength all the way through.
We are top of the ICC Test rankings and although South Africa are only third, I'm 100 per cent convinced that these are the best two Test teams in the world at the moment. It will be a great series. Everyone has been waiting all summer for this series so let's just hope the weather doesn't have too much of an impact.
For Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen, who were born in South Africa and have had many important cricketing experiences there, there is possibly some extra motivation coming into the series. It's a big series for all of us but we want to go out and play as we would against any other team. We've had our team meetings and our chats, so those guys will know how they want to approach the series, and we're right behind them.
The last time we played Tests against South Africa was during our 2009/10 tour, and it was definitely a turning point in my England career. My innings of 78 at Cape Town, which helped us to draw the first Test, was one of my most satisfying moments in an England shirt.
At that time in my career, people were used to me scoring nice-looking runs but never ugly runs when it was needed. That was the first knock I'd played when the team were really counting on me and since then, I've done it more often. After I'd played an innings like that, it helped my confidence a great deal and I now believe I can do it when required.
We'll have to be at our best to keep out the South African bowlers over the next five days at The Oval and during the rest of the series. Dale Steyn is the top-ranked Test bowler in the world and I believe the time he spent at Warwickshire in 2007 was an important period for him in that respect, because he learned how to bowl in English conditions.
In the county matches where we were team-mates, he didn't tear in and bowl as quickly as he could. He just pitched the ball up and swung it really nicely. He really learned how to get the ball up there and swing it, something he does consistently now, and he was phenomenal for us.
Just as we have, South Africa have a strong bowling line-up, and Steyn is a big reason for that. He bowls at good pace and he bowls an attacking length, he's always hitting the stumps. He can cause a lot of problems for tail-enders, because of the length he bowls, and there's no doubt he's one of the best I've faced. He's been incredibly consistent for a long period of time.
I've felt in good form this summer in both Test and one-day cricket, after things didn't go so well for me during the winter against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Maybe that was the reality check I needed, though, because it proved I needed to keep working harder after I'd done well in 2011.
I learned little things, such as the need to keep batting when I'm in form. That's why I played for Warwickshire against Sussex last week, and I know now that if I'm fit and fresh, I'm better off in the middle than the nets. Sometimes, you are tired and you do need a break but, equally, it can be the easy option.
I'd been playing really well all summer last year, then I had two months off after our tour of India, went to Dubai and Abu to face Pakistan and realised I hardly remembered one end of the bat from the other. There is a lot of cricket in the schedule, but it's a privilege to play for England, and I want to play every single minute that I can.
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