Final Test important as any for Bell
Ian Bell is adamant the significance of the third and last Test with Pakistan is undiminished by England having lost the series.
While England are determined to avoid a whitewash for their pride, they also know victory in the finale will ensure they remain top of the International Cricket Council rankings at the annual April 1 cut-off.
Another result combined with a South Africa whitewash of New Zealand in March will see the Proteas usurp England and take the US$175,000 jackpot, leaving Andrew Strauss’ side with US$75,000 for being runners-up.
“We’ve got a really important last game,” said Bell. “They’re a very good side, and they got it right in the last Test. But we’re proud to play for our country and this is as important a Test match as any.”
Bell is one of the England batsmen to have struggled in the two Tests so far, managing just 36 runs in his four innings.
Three of those knocks have been ended by Saeed Ajmal, who along with fellow spinner Abdur Rehman has troubled the tourists, and the other by seamer Umar Gul.
“Credit to the Pakistan spinners, who have bowled really well. But that’s gone now. The series is lost,” Bell added.
During today’s training session at Dubai, England spent three hours - in two groups - in the heat of the afternoon at the ICC’s Global Cricket Academy nets, working exclusively on batting against spin from net bowlers.
“We have been in and out of form, and need to stay together and work hard,” Bell said. “It’s a great time to learn.
“We got to number one in the world, but there’s so much more for us to improve and do as individuals and a team. You cannot stand still in this game.”
“It’s important we do not lose that confidence and still play in an aggressive, attacking manner in this form of the game.”
Not only must England improve against spin on this trip, but they will almost certainly face the same challenge during March and April’s two-Test series with Sri Lanka and next winter’s tour of India. Bell knows the size of the task ahead.
“We have never played good cricket in the sub-continent,” he added. “We have started to play really well everywhere else, and this is the last hurdle we need to get over. We knew that; we’ve had a chat, and it’s about the here and now.
“We have to play well here in these conditions if we want to stay number one in the world. There is a lot of cricket in the sub-continent, coming up.”
While England’s batsmen search for answers on Asian pitches, Bell can understand why many observers are calling for changes to the top six.
“You can accept that,” he said. “You have to score runs consistently all the time. This unit has done that for a long period of time. But we have had two bad Tests - and, of course, people are going to be asking questions. That is the reality of it. We expect that.”
Should he retain his place this week, Bell - England’s leading Test run-scorer last year - knows how he and his fellow specialist batsmen must apply themselves against Ajmal, Rehman and their dangerous back-up Mohammad Hafeez.
“When you are playing quality spin, you have to stay there for a period of time,” Bell added. “Wickets can tumble quickly. You can lose them in clusters - then it will go quiet, and flat. It can look quite comfortable then. But that’s how we have been caught. We have found it hard to start our innings.
“For the guys who have got in and got past the first 25 balls, things have become easier. Not enough of us have done that.”