Monday, February 28, 2011

Ian Bell

About Ian Bell

Full name Ian Bell

Born April 11, 1982, Walsgrave, Coventry, Warwickshire

Current age 28 years 285 days

Major teams England, England Lions, Marylebone Cricket Club, Warwickshire, Warwickshire Cricket Board

Nickname Belly

Playing role Top-order batsman

Batting style Right-hand bat

Bowling style Right-arm medium

Height 5 ft 10 in

Education Princethorpe College, Rugby

Relation Brother - KD Bell

Once described by Dayle Hadlee as the best 16-year old he had ever seen, Ian Bell had been earmarked for greatness long before he was drafted onto the England tour of New Zealand in 2001-02, as cover for the injured Mark Butcher.

Technically sound, Bell is a top-order batsman very much in the mould of Michael Atherton, who was burdened with similar expectations when he made his England debut a generation ago. Unlike Atherton, who invariably produced his best when his back was firmly against the wall, Bell's most fluent efforts tended to come about in a pressure vacuum, a trait that belied an average hovering around the 40 mark, and a record of a century every five or so Tests.

However, on the tour of South Africa in 2009-10, Bell set about changing those perceptions. A perfectly paced century while batting at No. 6 in Durban set England up for an innings victory that ranked, at the time, among their finest overseas performances for a generation, but he surpassed that effort in the very next Test in Cape Town, with a backs-to-the-wall 78 that saved the match and ensured a share of the series.

A freak injury while fielding in a one-dayer against Bangladesh interrupted his progress in 2010, but on the subsequent tour of Australia, he continued to save his best for when the chips were down, particularly during England's first-innings struggles at Brisbane and Perth. By common consent, he was the most fluent batsman on either team and overdue a promotion from No. 6 in the order, but he still finished the tour on a high with his maiden Ashes hundred at Sydney, and a reputation transformed.

When in form, Bell has always been adept at leaving the ball outside off stump, and he received glowing reviews from coaches at every stage of his development, not least from Rod Marsh at the England Academy, a man not given to hyperbole. A former England U19 captain, Bell had played just 13 first-class games when called into the England squad, though in 2001 he scored 836 runs for Warwickshire at an average of over 64, including three centuries. Amid all the attention, Bell's form slumped, but by 2004 he was on his way back.

He finally made his Test debut against West Indies in August 2004, stroking 70 in his only innings, before returning the following summer to lift his career average to an obscene 297 with two unbeaten innings against Bangladesh, including his maiden Test century at Chester-le-Street. Unsurprisingly, he wouldn't find such easy pickings on offer for the rest of the summer. Found out - like so many others - by Australia's champions, McGrath and Warne, he mustered just 171 runs in ten innings, but bounced back that winter, top-scoring for the series against Pakistan, including a classy century at Faisalabad.

After seeking advice from Alec Stewart to assert himself at the crease, he struck three elegant centuries in successive Tests against Pakistan and went to Australia with a new-found belief, having been named ICC's young player of the year for 2006. He was targeted by the Australian sledging, but managed four elegant half-centuries to confirm his stature as a Test batsman. By the end of England's disappointing World Cup campaign in March and April, Bell was one of a handful of squad members to have established themselves in both forms of the game.

Yet for all his class, the doubts persisted in his inability to convert fifties into match-turning hundreds. His critics were briefly quietened after making 110 against New Zealand in Napier and a career-best 199 against South Africa at Lord's, but an unproductive winter saw him dropped after the first Test of the West Indies tour. He returned midway through the Ashes, however, and responded with a pair of half-centuries in three Tests, including a gutsy 72 on the first day of the final Test at The Oval.

One Test later, he was back under pressure after failing twice in the opening Test against South Africa at Centurion. However, with the critics circling he responded with a sublime 140 to help set up an innings victory for England in the second Test at Durban, and his five-hour rearguard at Cape Town marked the moment he attained international maturity.

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