"I want to get back in the team" - Ian Bell eyes England recall after rediscovering himself in the Big Bash

Speaking exclusively to The Independent, the 34-year-old batsman opens up about the Big Bash, England and more

Paul Newman
Friday 06 January 2017 16:00 GMT
Ian Bell in action for the Perth Scorchers
Ian Bell in action for the Perth Scorchers

A funny thing happened to Ian Bell here at the WACA on New Year’s Day. After playing for England in three Ashes series Down Under he had grown accustomed to being on the receiving end of abuse from Australian fans, but for once this was different.

“When I came out to bat there was a lot of cheering from the locals,” Bell said. “What’s more, Shane Watson was getting quite a bit of stick. As an Englishman it was quite interesting to hear him being on the receiving end from the locals while I was getting cheered.”

No, the Perth sporting public had not suddenly become a nation of Aussie-bashing Pom-lovers. The reason for their support for an English batsman and their abuse of an Australian who had played in 59 Tests and 190 one-day internationals for his country was that Bell was representing the Perth Scorchers against Watson’s Sydney Thunder team.

“The support in Perth is amazing,” Bell said. “The fans will get behind you wherever you’re from. I’m sure if I had been wearing an England shirt and he had been in an Australia shirt it would have been the other way round.”

Shane Watson (l) has been booed more than 'pom' Ian Bell

Bell is enjoying his first stint in the Big Bash League, Australia’s hugely successful Twenty20 competition, having been recruited last summer by another former Ashes foe, Justin Langer, the coach of the Perth Scorchers. Bell has a special bond with this city, having played club cricket here in the winter before he made his England debut in 2004.

Bell’s quickfire 61 helped the Scorchers win their opening match last month for the first time in five years. His 45 was the top score in the win over Sydney Thunder and his regular flow of runs has helped take the team to second in the table.

The Big Bash League, which comes to a climax at the end of this month, has been drawing bigger crowds than Australia’s current Test series against Pakistan. Matches at the WACA have been sold out.

Bell arrived early last month just as his former colleagues in the England team were sinking to a crushing Test series defeat in India. After playing in 118 Tests and 161 one-day internationals, the Warwickshire batsman had lost his place in the national limited-overs team after the 2015 World Cup and was dropped from the Test side after the series against Pakistan at the end of that year.

At 34, however, Bell has far from given up hope of playing for his country again. In particular, there is nothing more he would love than to return Down Under at the end of this year and become the first England player ever to win six Ashes series. He shares the record of five with Ian Botham and Wilfred Rhodes.

Bell knows that good performances here on Australian wickets, albeit in Twenty20 cricket, can only help his England cause. “I’ve come out here wanting to get 100 per cent involved with the Perth Scorchers,” he said. “I haven’t been thinking: ‘Oh if I get runs today that improves my chances of a Test place.’

I’m open about this. I want to get back in the team

Ian Bell

“But given that coverage of this competition goes around the world, I think it’s inevitable that if you’re scoring runs and playing well against top cricketers it’s not going to hurt your case. The fact that I’ve scored runs regularly at the WACA isn’t going to harm my case for a Test place. I’m open about this. I want to get back in the team.”

He added: “It will be interesting to see whether people will want a bit of experience within the [England] squad. I hope that playing on these surfaces and doing well, and having been out here before and been lucky enough to win five Ashes series before, will go in my favour when it comes to building a squad for a series down here.”

The rise of Keaton Jennings and other young players could trigger a recall for the experienced Bell

After being overlooked for last winter’s tour of South Africa, Bell met Andrew Strauss, England’s director of cricket. Bell recalled: “He gave me some advice, as my boss but also as a friend, someone who had been through those situations when you’re towards the back end of your career.

“He said to me: ‘Take this time away, but you will know when the guys get to South Africa whether you still want to play or you don’t.’ I think he was right. I did know. I knew that I wanted to be out there playing. I missed it.

“But it gave me an opportunity, to be honest, to go away and freshen up a little bit. I wouldn’t say that I was burned out, but I had been on the road for a long time after the last Ashes series at home and I felt pretty tired and wasn’t enjoying the training as much. But after having a bit of time away from that limelight and then coming into this, it reignites your love for the game.”

Bell is clearly enjoying his cricket again. He rose to the challenge of captaining Warwickshire last summer and has loved the team spirit of the Perth Scorchers.

“Apart from myself, David Willey and Jimmy Muirhead, who is from Victoria, the rest of the guys are all local,” Bell said. “They’ve played together a lot. You really feel you’re walking into a team. It’s not just a group of people from all different parts. They work very hard and as a team.

A bit of time away from that limelight and then this, it reignites your love for the game

Ian Bell on the Big Bash

“They’re very well drilled. It hasn’t just happened overnight. If you want to keep improving as a player, keep getting challenged and keep getting better, I couldn’t have asked any better. I’m sure a lot of the younger players in this group will go on to big things in Australia.”

Playing for the Scorchers has also given Bell the chance to share a dressing room with another former Ashes opponent, Mitchell Johnson, who has retired from international cricket.

“He’s been fantastic,” Bell said. “England and Australia are always desperate to win the Ashes and it’s a huge series for both countries, but when you find yourselves on the same team you find there are a lot of things you have in common, that we all strive for. I’ve been really impressed with the way he goes about his business.”

Bell’s accommodation in the city is within sight of the new 60,000-capacity Perth Stadium, which is currently under construction and may be ready in time to stage the Third Test in December. “It looks incredible,” Bell said. “It would be nice to play either an Ashes match or a Big Bash match there next year.”

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