The 10-minute fix that put Bell in full swing once more

Net session rescues out of form and out of favour batsman
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The Independent Online

"It has been a massive learning curve for me. I thought I wouldn't get another game on this trip and when I did I knew that I had to give it everything I'd got," he said, reflecting on a tour that has already seen him lose form, lose his place, regain it, find the form and the innocuous reason he lost it, score a mature Test hundred and then follow it with a duck.

There may be another twist yet in the next fortnight or so, but it would be unnecessary in this particular plot. Since he is being touted as a possible replacement opener for Andrew Strauss, who has returned to England to be with his wife for the birth of their first child, he could get it anyway.

Bell came on this tour as the man who didn't win the Ashes. He had been in the team but the public perception was that he was the one who failed to perform. There had been two fifties at Old Trafford but what people remembered, as they do, was the pair in the decisive white heat of the battle at The Oval. It was being openly suggested that his mild manner was a liability in international cricket.

Come the team for the First Test against Pakistan after one disastrous warm-up game and Bell was out. It would have been a long road back, almost certainly not this trip.

Suddenly, two of those little things, innocuous yet momentous, happened to be followed fairly swiftly by a slightly bigger one. Bell discovered that his backswing was not straight and that he was holding the bat too tightly with his bottom hand.

Then Michael Vaughan twisted a knee. Two days before the Multan Test, Bell was back in. The reprieve - and his replacement Paul Collingwood's failure - could make him. He made a gritty 71 and 31, kept his place and followed it with 115 at Faisalabad. The century was not blemish free but it was eminently composed.

He had turned a corner: never mind the new Graham Thorpe, here at last was the real Ian Bell. Bell and Kevin Pietersen, the flashy, assured, extrovert No 5 shared a stand of 154. They looked like the punk and the choirboy. But two days later Bell played a rash shot before he had scored as England sought a draw. It made England 10 for 3, and that became 20 for 4.

"I was scratching around when I came out here and started looking for some answers," Bell said as he looked back on the Second Test. "I was looking for the wrong thing, at my feet, something technical. It was my swing. Instead of coming down straight it was coming down a little bit from fine leg and coming round. I thought it was my alignment."

Bell is a natural and fretful analyst about the minutiae of his game. It is his earnest nature. First he went to England's assistant coach, Tim Boon, who he has known since he was 12. Boon simply rolled the ball at him, Bell did not even move his feet.

"I just picked up the bat, made sure I went through the line," he said. "Within five or six balls, I knew what it was and after 10 minutes came out with an overwhelming sense of relief."

He also spoke to Pakistan's coach, Bob Woolmer, once his coach at Warwickshire. "He said I was gripping the bat too tight with the bottom hand. He was right. Mind you he grabbed me round the neck after the First Test and said he wouldn't have told me if he'd thought I would play."

Bell thinks, and nobody would disagree, that his Faisalabad century was by far his best Test innings. "It was as well as I have played technically. I felt in control of everything I did." He played the spinners assertively, using his feet, bat in front of pad. But forget all that for a moment. It was also the way he went about it.

"As I passed Shahid Afridi on the way out, he said I looked positive. I thought, that's what you need to look like. That's what the people I talk to have been saying, 'stop walking out like a schoolboy and walk out, chest out, like you mean business. With a presence'." It probably does not come naturally.

Bell felt he belonged. Any misplaced confidence (and he really isn't the type) was immediately dented by his misguided forcing stroke against a rampant Shoaib Akhtar in the second innings. "It was misjudged. I'll learn from it big time. When you've got a hundred you still start again from nought next time.

"The thing is that when you're thinking about other things in technique, you're a bit rushed. When I'm not worried I've got so much more time." That hundred in Faisalabad last week has bought him plenty of that.

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