Bell ready to strike at three or five
Ian Bell is quietly preparing himself for another drop down England’s batting order this winter - but admits his long-term ambition remains to make the number three position his own.
That will never be an easy task, of course, as long as current International Cricket Council player of the year Jonathan Trott is in the frame.
Bell could hardly have put forward better credentials to stay in the coveted role, by hitting 159 and then a career-best 235 in only three attempts while Trott was nursing a shoulder injury during last summer’s 4-0 Test series victory over India.
Yet despite a prolific run of form since the start of last winter’s Ashes, Bell is prepared to fulfil which ever task suits England’s Test match world-beaters best.
That almost certainly means he will be back at number five, where his fine technique against spin will doubtless come in very handy against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, as England embark on their first series since becoming the ICC’s number one Test team.
For Bell, one of the challenges will therefore be to silence the ego - a trick which has been central to England’s ethos during their ascent to the top of those world rankings.
Even so, the 29-year-old does not deny he still has long-term designs on one of cricket’s most pivotal positions.
“My goal is to bat three,” he said. “I think that’s where you can test yourself, and certainly there is a part of me that wants to bat there.”
There is the truth; now for the rationale that appears to serve ’one-for-all’ England so well.
“I’ve had success at five, I’ve had success at six - and I’m very happy to bat there. I’ll bat wherever the team want me to bat,” Bell added.
“My long-term goal is I want to bat in the top three. But for me now, it’s just a matter of scoring runs in this series.”
There is little sense in Bell thinking in any other terms - because Trott has so often been an immovable force, against the world’s best, at one-wicket down.
“That’s 100% probably what will happen,” Bell said of his anticipated demotion. “I’m clear in what I need to do. At the end of the day, we’re a batting unit and we have to score runs to give our bowlers a chance of winning a Test match.
“So whether it’s three or five, I’ll be prepared to bat there. But I’m pretty sure it will be number five.”
England have not been in action since October, when they suffered a one-day series defeat in India, and Bell believes the players have benefited from an unusually long spell away from the middle.
Following their first training session at the ICC’s global academy in Dubai, he said: “It’s nice to have had a break. But a month or two into it, you’re itching to get back in the nets and practise.
“It was brilliant to get out there. We’re lucky to be able to use these facilities in preparation for a Test series - it is exactly what you need.
“We’re going to really enjoy the next week of preparation, and getting ready.”
England know they will face a stern examination of their new-found number one Test status against ‘hosts’, forced to take on the world in a neutral venue but who have already proved formidable opponents here.
“Pakistan have been playing some really good cricket, and obviously know these grounds pretty well - having played here for a while now,” added Bell.
“It’s going to be a tough series, and we’ve got to prepare really well for the next week and make sure we’re ready to go for this next Test match.”
England will begin their warm-up schedule for three Tests with a three-day match against an ICC Combined Associate and Affiliate XI, captained by Ireland’s Will Porterfield, this weekend.
Looking ahead to the match, Bell added: “We’re always looking to improve our cricket on the sub-continent. Everyone’s fresh; we’ve all got over injuries and are all excited to be back on the field.”
“Porterfield helped Ireland inflict a hammer blow on England during their stuttering World Cup campaign last spring. But so much of that astonishing match in Bangalore was about Kevin O’Brien’s whirlwind hundred - and the heartening news for Andrew Strauss’ tourists is that the all-rounder is not here this time.
“I hope we can get another result, like we did in March,” said Porterfield. “But in this form of the game, they’re number one. So it’s not going to be easy.”
England Lions pace bowler Boyd Rankin is in the ICC team - which contains three players from Afghanistan, two from Namibia and one from the UAE as well as two of Porterfield’s countrymen and two from Scotland.
“It’s a few lads getting together from a few different associate countries, so that’s a bit of a different challenge in itself,” said the captain, in his trademark nasal brogue.
“There are a few language barriers - I’m probably one of the hardest to understand! But we’ve played against each other a few times now, so pretty much know each other, and seem to have clicked pretty quickly.”