James Lawton: It should be the whole tour or no tour for dad-to-be Ian Bell
Analysis of Bell’s performances so far suggest his mind was wandering
Ian Bell, millions of ageing New Men are no doubt ready to declare, is showing the soundest of priorities by flying home from England's first Test debacle – and his own bizarre contribution to it – for the birth of his first child.
This means that any dinosaur out there with the nerve to suggest that Bell might just have had a few other responsibilities to consider before the resumption of action in Mumbai would almost certainly be wise to remain silent.
However, there is maybe another argument which does not necessarily involve a gauntlet of outraged sensitivities. It is that Bell – like other hugely rewarded sportsmen who consider home leave in the delivery ward an absolute right – might have weighed his situation a little differently before getting on the India-bound plane.
He might, for instance, have wondered if it would not have been advisable, in the special circumstances and schedule of the tour, to have stayed home in the first place.
He knew the ETA of his first born. It was in the brief hiatus between the first and second Tests, when England, it was reasonable to spec-ulate, might well have been beset by problems of strategy and selection.
As a front-line batsman of often brilliant achievement but significant under-performance on the subcontinent, his certain absence from the second Test was clearly a potential major problem that could have been avoided.
But at what cost, the invoking of some ancient belief that men should do what men have to do?
No – just an idea that it might be better if England could have relied on the unbroken services of a batsman armed with exposure to Indian conditions in the first Test.
This is not some airy debate about the requirements of the modern father. It is a question of strategy and professionalism and an investigation of possibilities other than that of a key member of a national sports team standing down from duty at a most pivotal phase of his contracted service.
There is certainly an interesting contrast in the different ways the English cricket authority and the British Army approach the dilemma.
When a soldier draws an assignment to, say, Afghanistan it is for a six-month spell. In that time he is granted two weeks' home leave. In the event of an impending birth – the notification of which he receives, of course, a considerable time before the happy occasion – he has every encouragement to arrange it so as to be at bedside.
When England cricketers were assigned to India they had to serve two months for the build-up to the Tests, the four all-important matches, and two Twenty20 engagements. They are then due to fly home for Christmas, returning to India for one-day international games stretching to three weeks.
We are constantly told that touring the subcontinent is the toughest assignment in cricket and no doubt the conditions are most alien to the English-reared player. This, though, surely underlines the point that it is reasonable to expect the unbroken application of those who accept the challenge.
Bell may indeed have the unequivocal right to attend the birth of his first child but does this have to be at the expense of the vital continuity of effort so necessary to the success of his team? Analysis of Bell's performances thus far suggest that his mind may have been wandering back to England and the imminence of arguably the most profound of all his experiences, the onset of fatherhood, when the challenge of dealing with the Indian spinners was a huge professional imperative.
Certainly some very hardened observers believe that the shot which brought him a first-ball duck a few days ago was arguably one of the most ludicrous ever seen at the Test level.
This invites again the question of whether England would have been wiser to have relied on such undistracted contenders as Jonny Bairstow and Eoin Morgan rather than a potentially preoccupied Bell.
Before the Test, Bell was saying that he was aware his decision to fly home might well cost him his England place – and that prospect will be hugely enhanced if Bairstow, who played so splendidly against South Africa at Lord's earlier this summer and has already scored a century in India, takes his chance in Mumbai.
The issue, when you get right down to it, need not be too emotional. It revolves around a little more than the question of whether Bell's natural instinct to be present at the birth should over-ride the needs of his team. No doubt he would say yes. The feeling here is that a leave of absence from active duty would have better met most requirements. Whether you are a soldier or a cricketer, the need is surely to take an uninterrupted mind to the job.
Ferrari's dirty tricks campaign turns F1 into unqualified farce
Formula One's status as a sport with anything approaching a competitive conscience has long been tenuous but rarely has it taken such a ferocious kicking as in the one delivered by the prancing horse of Ferrari beneath the Texan sky.
Tampering with their No 2 driver Felipe Massa's car in order to move their title contender Fernando Alonso away from the dirty side of the grid, we were told almost exultantly, was within the rules. Others said it was sharp practice verging on genius. However, let us imagine that the brilliantly gifted Alonso denies Sebastian Vettel another world title in the final race in Brazil, and ask a small question. Will anyone outside the Red Bull camp, and maybe Massa, worry for a second that the triumph involved making a complete farce of what we are told, in a barrage of hype, is the vitally significant business of qualifying? They will not even bother with an asterisk.
Di Matteo keeps dignity as exit opens
How swiftly the wheel turns at Stamford Bridge. Now we are told that Roberto Di Matteo hangs by a thread, less than six months after delivering Roman Abramovich the ultimate prize of the Champions League, with an FA Cup thrown in.
He is four points off the lead in the Premier League, after Chelsea lost to the brilliantly developing West Bromwich Albion at the weekend, which is not exactly a catastrophic attempt to renovate the project which went so askew under the management of his hugely rewarded predecessor Andre Villas-Boas. He also remains alive, however perilously, in the Champions League he was able to win at the end of a most chaotic season.
Given that Di Matteo has also had to negotiate the John Terry maelstrom, the catastrophic form of David Luiz and the continued vaporisation of the oligarch's £50m brainstorm Fernando Torres, some might say he can don the martyr's crown as soon as he likes.
However, the best bet is that he will continue his hazardous task of attempting to return Chelsea to the real football world with great professional fortitude right up to the moment he is relieved of his duties.
Then, whatever happens in the meantime, he can resume his football life secure in the knowledge that no one ever beat more formidable odds. He might even have the grace to wish Pep Guardiola or some other successor the very best of luck.
Ronaldo just grew up
In the most fulsome tribute to his former Manchester United team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, Gary Neville declares, "Brave, ruthless, relentless: Ronaldo redefined football."
He didn't, no more than other fabulous performers like Pele, Maradona, Johan Cruyff and the currently luminous Lionel Messi. What he did, on the field at least, was grow up.
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