A batsman who has not played a Twenty20 match for three years was charged on Monday with salvaging England’s world championship campaign. The belated summons of Ian Bell is a measure of the squad’s uncertain state, with captain Stuart Broad set to miss the last two matches in the Caribbean with knee trouble and vice-captain, Eoin Morgan, also needing treatment on a troublesome knee injury.
It also reflects the belief that class should tell in any form of the game and that the relentless schedule makes it difficult for top players to appear across the board. Bell was already in Barbados as cover for the series against West Indies but will be added to the party for the World Twenty20 following the official withdrawal on Monday night of Joe Root with a broken thumb. The Yorkshire batsman saw a specialist in London who confirmed the injury would not recover in time for him to play in the tournament, which starts in Bangladesh on Sunday. England’s first match is a week on Saturday against New Zealand.
Bell seems certain to be plunged straight into the fray for the second T20 match against West Indies today and, after the disastrous exhibition of attempting to deal with spin bowling in the first on Sunday, will almost certainly stay in the team in Bangladesh. If Morgan is unfit he may even be captain.
While it might seem odd that Bell was not included in the first place, the simple truth is that in international cricket something has to give.Already a key player in both Test and one-day formats, Bell would be constantly on the road were he to play T20 regularly as well. He appeared in the last of his seven international T20s in July 2011 and has not played for Warwickshire in the format since the year before that.
He is known to be frustrated by the hectic schedule, wanting to prove himself in all forms of the game. But with a young family and the need to be at a constant peak, it would be unfair to expect Bell to be available for Tests, ODIs and T20. The feeling is that as the team’s best player of spin (and probably most other types of bowling) he should open the batting, as he does in ODIs.
Many opponents will now think they can exploit England’s obvious weakness by starting with at least one slow bowler. It worked like a dream for the West Indies in their convincing 27-run win on Sunday.
England may be reluctant to break up the Alex Hales and Michael Lumb opening partnership which has been relatively successful, in which case Bell would come in at three for the struggling Luke Wright. But with a major tournament imminent and no clear strategy in place following the way England have been shunted aside in their last four matches, it is time for boldness.
Graham Thorpe, the team’s batting coach, said: “We want the guys up top to be positive. Going to Bangladesh, we need our best players to be in the right positions. But we need to be positive in our play if we are going to do well in the World T20.”
Thorpe agreed England needed quickly to improve technique, decision-making and shot selection. “In T20 it’s a fine line. You want guys to be confident and aggressive so it all comes down to execution,” he said.
Probable teams: West Indies v England
Denesh Ramdin (wk)
Darren Sammy (capt)
Eoin Morgan (capt)
Jos Buttler (wk)