The Ashes – the ultimate Test. Every cricketer would want to play in the Ashes some day. It is often described as a regular bilateral Test series played between two of cricket’s greatest rivals. What is not true is the word ‘regular’. This particular series has a history so magnificent attached to it, that it is anything but ‘regular’, and any person who disagrees is just naive.
Every time the Ashes comes around, cricket fans go gaga, they empty their schedules for the day (or days) to sit and watch the matches. It’s a major ritual for the die-hard cricket fan.
The fiercest of rivals battling it out for five gruesome days. Can it get any better?
Along with Ashes comes attached a few irreplaceable rituals. One of those rituals is the unveiling of a new ‘hero’, a ‘hero’ to carry the whole future of the nation on their shoulders once the current legends retire. In the recent past, for England it was Kevin Pietersen when he made his Ashes debut, and for Australia it was Michael Clarke.
We’ve recently added the whole ‘Ashes’s Legends’ series. It was a testimonial of sorts, to commemorate legends, legends who have graced this wonderful game, and have achieved so much success that we call them legends today. We have many, many players of this modern era who could be added to that series in a few years time.
One man, though not obvious, who could be added to that coveted series, is undoubtedly Ian Ronald Bell. I’m almost sure most of you reading this piece didn’t know his middle name was Ronald, unless you checked his Wikipedia page, and honestly I didn’t. Such is the obscurity of the man.
Ian Bell is often forgotten, or left behind in the shadow of his more ‘illustrious’ colleagues (read Cook, Trott, Pietersen). His contributions often come when England were in a comfortable position in the match. He is just so easy to watch that when he bats with someone like Pietersen, he gets sidelined, like his contributions didn’t represent something meaningful.
However, in the present Ashes series, he is the one raking in the runs, making the useful contributions, and more importantly pulling the team out of dire situations – all while remaining in his comfort zone – away from the limelight.
Pundits would say he has come of age now, not giving his wicket away after making a start, that he isn’t making centuries when other batsmen have already made centuries. I for one, have always found Bell to be one heck of a batsman! Whether he makes a century or not. He is just so easy to watch- creamy cover drives, supremely-timed late cuts and preposterous pulls – he has them all.
I have always thought he could torment sides as much as Pietersen or Cook. For proof, catch me when I’m watching India play England, especially when Bell is batting. I always hope that he would get out cheap, or else watch my tortured soul witness him torment our poor bowlers with a stick.
Jokes aside, let’s look at his contributions for England in the Test arena. He has scored 19 Test centuries so far for England over the course of his career, and whenever he has scored a century, its either been a victory or a draw, 12 wins and six draws to be exact.
The outcome of the ongoing Lords Test too might tilt towards England after Bell’s brilliance. His tTst career on the whole is brilliant as well. He averages 45.81, which is pretty good for a player who has played over 80 tests. He has scored 6002 runs with 19 hundreds and 36 fifties.
If you look at that last statistic, you will notice a fantastic conversion rate of below two fifties/century – 1.89 to be exact; a staggering rate for most batsmen, let alone a player who is said to live eternally in the shadows of the Pietersens and Cooks.
Everyone loves the underdog. Admit it, we all do. When Zimbabwe beat Australia, I was one of a trillion to jump off my seat and applaud the effort. After all I finally got to say: take it Australia!
Ian Bell is that proverbial underdog, the unsung hero, the ‘B’ team to Pietersen’s ‘A’, the back stage staff (I could go on, but you get the point). He seems to have finally answered his critics, with performances even Pietersen himself applauded. His performances saved England a few blushes on home soil against perennial rivals. That counts for a lot, right?
Though his performances in the first Test could be credited with winning England the Test match, his performance in the second Test truly highlights his change in temperament. He has reinvented himself. Call him Bell 2.0 if you must. This is a man on a mission, an invigorated player, one who has risen from the ashes(forgive the pun). He walks in at 28-3 when Cook, Root and Pietersen(yes, him again!) are back in the hut for a paltry 28.
Along with Trott, he added a well-timed and patient 99 runs to steady the ship. Once Trott fell, anyone who has watched Bell over the years would’ve had their hearts in their mouths, imagining Bell chasing a loose ball outside off and edging it to the keeper or first slip. But, he defied all those who doubted him with a stunning 109, rather enjoying his new role as England’s pacifier, a block to Australia’s unrelenting aggression, and entering the record books as just the fourth English batsman to hit three consecutive Ashes centuries (including the one he hit down under at Sydney in 2010-2011 Ashes series). He answered his critics in the best possible way, with a bat in hand.
An intricate play of words is described as an astute understanding of literature, and the presence of a well established literary prowess. Ian Bell’s intricate show of class and delicate structuring of an innings is a show of true brilliance, a brilliance we associate with the likes of Rahul Dravid and Marvin Atapattu.
Something about his meticulous style of play contradicts the current ‘macho’ code. He was delicate, diminutive and focused. At Trent Bridge, he walked in with England at 121 for three and left some poor recent form behind to save his country with an 18th Test century that brought him level with David Gower and Michael Vaughan.
This 19th ton lifts him to the same high tier as Len Hutton and places him one behind Ken Barrington and Graham Gooch, all players who have enjoyed great form with England. No longer can he be accused of being a luxury in England’s middle order. ”Give him his due credit” – say the same hypocrites who believed he was England’s answer to Rohit Sharma.
He is now playing Australia excellently, unlike his time against McGrath and Warne, albeit with the proviso that this is a much less menacing Australia attack. Even so, Bell is playing his own graceful game while extricating England from trouble. This is the combination that his critics said was eluding him.
His century at Lords will always be remembered. It is, after all, the happiest feeling for a batsman to score one at the home of cricket.
England’s batsmen, with their higher averages than Australia, have not excelled yet as a single force. Their saviour is the so-called ‘mouse’ who roared. You could only applaud this spirited reinvention.
Even after all the attention he is getting for his performances, the man simply says he is lucky to be a part of history, a part of this England outfit. His humility makes him that much more invaluable.
I say England are lucky to have this man, after all, an unsung hero performing so well is so much more pleasing, isn’t it?