Seeing Ian Bell maintain his place in the England side for the 2nd Test against South Africa might disappoint more than a few fans who think he has more than had enough chances, it may well also have people scratching their heads wondering what the selectors see in him.
Could it be that just two tests ago he scored a battling 1st innings 72 at The Oval against Australia in the deciding Ashes test, top scoring (in 1st inns) and going a long way to setting up the test and series victory?
Or is it more likely that the selectors keep him in the side to take the heat off captain in waiting and a man they have invested a lot of time and effort into, the woefully out of form and having major technical problems, the found out star that is Alastair Cook.
In sticking with Bell – when England clearly needed a fifth bowler in the 1st test – the selectors are less likely to have to answer questions about Cook’s form and why they didn’t bring a spare top order batsman. In other words they won’t have to admit they got things wrong with the selection of the touring party!
All joking aside, neither man looks in any great shape. Alastair Cook looked all at sea in the 1st test and seemed that preoccupied with worrying about his feet and trying to implement his newly worked on (with Graham Gooch) technique that he seemed to miss the most obvious fundamental thing for a batsman – judging and playing the next ball on it’s merits.
I don’t doubt for a minute that Cook has not put in an immense amount of hard work in trying to rebuild his floundering test career since the Ashes series, working with Graham Gooch, he has attempted to remould his batting technique.
That could be regarded as a very high risk strategy going into a test series against a side as good as South Africa. After all, up until 12-18 months ago his technique had gone ok, so was it really worth him tearing up the script and starting again? I’m not so sure.
He has two test hundreds this year, both against West Indies. One was on a pudding wicket in the 4th test at Barbados. The other was in the home series at Chester-le-Street in May 2009 when West Indies turned up in presence only. Test centuries they might be, defining innings of note they are not.
I watch him at the moment and think he might as well just throw caution to the wind and go out and play a few shots and try to release the shackles.
In the case of Ian Bell, here is another thorn in the selectors side. Currently playing his 51st test and with the exception of the 2006 home series against Pakistan, he has never really looked at home in the side.
He has the footwork, the technique, all the shots, looks complete at the crease and is the textbook batsman of the England side, all these are the reasons the selectors stick with him.
He just seems to be lacking in that important area between the ears. He dosen’t appear to have that self belief that he belongs at test level, the body language is never great and it shows to the opposition.
He dosen’t look like he can even impose his character on his own team mates, let alone the opposition. Shane Warne summed him up with that memorable nickname in the Ashes series 2006/07.
Just how much longer the selectors can go on hoping he can finally turn that corner, who knows? The fact that he has already played 50 tests shows how much Geoff Miller and co want him to succeed. The opposite school of thought would suggest that if he hasn’t come good by now, he never will.
With only Luke Wright on this tour as a viable batting option, it looks like the selectors will either have to stick with Cook and Bell, or play five bowlers with Bell missing out.
Either way they need one or both to come good as they have backed themselves into a corner with the squad selection, it is time they both stood up and delivered and repaid the faith the selectors have shown in them.