Bell targets Ashes hundred
Ian Bell is determined to register an Ashes century and sees the Boxing Day Test as the perfect opportunity to do so.
The 28-year-old has 11 Test tons to his name but his highest score against Australia is 87 at Perth four years ago.
Bell is in his fourth Ashes series and about to embark on his 17th Test versus England’s greatest rivals.
The elegant right-hander's first-innings 53 in the 267-run Ashes series-levelling defeat in Perth was his fourth successive Test half-century.
However, he naturally wants to go on to the next landmark.
"I'm desperate for an Ashes hundred - a few of them, to be honest - and I'm hoping with the way I'm playing there's one around the corner," he said.
"I think I've improved a lot over the past 18 months and I'm desperate to keep improving.
"I'm certainly not happy with where I am now - I want to keep kicking on.
"My performances are becoming better under pressure, and I'm starting to show the type of cricketer people saw in me in my early ages."
Bell’s impressive form Down Under from number six has led to calls for him to come in above Paul Collingwood, who is yet to produce his best form on this tour.
Asked about this, Bell made clear there has been no hint either way from captain Andrew Strauss or team director Andy Flower.
"I've had no discussions about it," he confirmed. "It's always nice to get moved up the order. But whether that happens or not is irrelevant for me for this series, as long as we're winning the next two Test matches.
"That's the most important thing to me, contributing to this team winning the Ashes."
Bell took part today, along with the full squads from both countries, in a preview event in Melbourne's Queensbridge Square.
If a gathering of hundreds rather than thousands of people did not convey the wall-to-wall fever pitch anticipated from a record 90,000-plus crowd at the MCG on Sunday, there was still enough excitement in the air to conclude a significant event is in the offing.
Bell was able to feed off some of that when he spoke shortly afterwards of England's intention to embrace the occasion, and show themselves in a better light than they managed while Australia were levelling the series in the third Test at the WACA.
"Playing here in Melbourne is something you look forward to - a Boxing Day Test match is always special.
"The Oval in the last Ashes was a pretty big game - any England-Australia game is a huge game.
"But it's probably one of the most exciting Test matches I feel we're going into.
"We're particularly excited about playing on one of the best grounds in the world and trying to put right what we did wrong in Perth.
"I think we've played some very good cricket since we've been here. We had a blip in Perth - we knew Australia at some point would play some great cricket and have some great individual performances."
England have done some straight talking, in private, since that setback - and are confident they are back on the right track.
"We've had a good opportunity to have a sit down and talk about what happened in Perth. In Melbourne, I'm sure we can put right what went wrong," Bell added.
"Certainly they have got some momentum going into it, there's no doubt. They played some fantastic cricket at the WACA. But out of the three Test matches, I'd say we've been playing the better cricket."
Bell was optimistic over the fitness of pace spearhead James Anderson, who suffered stiffness in his side after his Perth exertions, while Australia have been likewise about their LINK:15523|CAPTION:injured captain, Ricky Ponting].
Bell said of Anderson: "He's sounded very positive. I'm sure we'll find out a bit more tomorrow, but he seemed all fit and ready to go."
Anderson is likely to test his side by bowling at full pace in England's first practice session since their defeat at the WACA.
Ponting, meanwhile, took part in fielding practice at the MCG this morning but has yet to bat since he broke his left little finger, trying to take a slip catch last weekend.
Bell will be surprised if the determined Tasmanian is absent for such an important match.
"Knowing Ricky Ponting, the type of tough cricketer he is, I'm sure he'll be out on the field," he said.
The England players also visited the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne today. They spent time with and handed out signed goodies to the kids on a number of wards.