Flexible Bell wants World Cup glory
Ian Bell wants to complete a starring role in the most successful winter in England’s history - whether it be from number one or number four in the batting order.
Bell began his country’s so far stuttering World Cup campaign with two half-centuries in three attempts, from the middle-order position which used to be inked in for Kevin Pietersen.
Down at number six, or occasionally even seven if a nightwatchman was in use, he was also a prolific source of runs in England’s first Ashes victory in Australia for a quarter of a century.
The handsome statistics have waned on spin-friendly surfaces of late. But Bell still feels in top form - and as England prepare to enter the knockout stages, he will not say no if he is offered a promotion back up to the top of the order.
“I’d be as keen as anything to do it,” he said, asked whether a return to the limited-overs opening slot he last filled two and a half years ago might appeal to him on the big stage.
“One-day cricket is a great place to go up at the top of the order, with the field up. It’s a good place to go out and bat, so I’d be really desperate to do that.”
Since Pietersen - himself pushed up to open at the start of this tournament - flew home to have surgery on a hernia, England have reverted to wicketkeeper Matt Prior as captain Andrew Strauss’ first-wicket partner.
Yet Prior’s skill against spin might be just as well deployed in the low middle order, meaning either Bell or Ravi Bopara may get the call to move up again.
If either does, it will be a significant challenge with a quarter-final looming and England potentially just three matches away from winning this competition for the first time in nine attempts.
Bell is cagey about his personal preferences, but the most obvious reading of his diplomatic responses is that opening the batting appeals significantly.
“If I had to stay at four and keep to my role for the team, I’m happy to do that as well,” he said.
“It’s something I’ve been asked to do in this World Cup. One of my strengths is going out there and playing spin, so I feel very confident and comfortable batting in that position.
“But one of my strengths is in being quite flexible. I haven’t really had one position with England in one-day cricket; I’ve been up and down the order.
“I’d like to be able to nail one place and stay there for a while. But if I have to move up and down, I’m willing to do that as well.”
Wherever he bats, Bell knows it is not going to get any easier over the next two weeks.
“The first three games were very batter-friendly, and the last three have been really hard work for all of us,” he said.
“We’re going to have to scrap really hard, and try to put on a complete performance with bat and ball.”
Today they had to watch on television as India beat West Indies in Chennai - a result that means England will play Sri Lanka in Colombo on Saturday.
Bell, who was involved in England's 3-2 one-day series win in Sri Lanka in 2007, said: “We’re pretty excited about playing Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka.
“Sri Lanka’s a big challenge. But we’ve had success there in the recent past, and we hope we can do it again.”
Should England win, Saturday’s match will be the last of Muttiah Muralitharan’s wonderful international career - and Bell is well aware of the threat still posed by the record-breaking off-spinner.
“We’re going to have to play Murali well,” he said. “But we have (Eoin) Morgan back - a quality player of spin in the middle order - which will help us.”
Morgan has a minor shoulder injury and Bell is suffering with a chest infection but also expects to be fit for on Saturday. The latter spelled out again just how precious three more victories would be.
“The guys are desperate to win,” he said. “We saw that in the last game against the West Indies, that even after a long winter the guys are desperate to keep progressing in this tournament.
“The belief has always been there, and still is, that we can beat anyone on our day. In the last 12-18 months, when we’ve had matches we’ve got to win we’ve come out well.
“It’s very clear to us what we have to do, and I’m sure there are a lot of teams around that don’t really want to play England - because they don’t quite know what they’re going to get at the minute.
“We’re pretty excited with where we are. We know we haven’t played very well yet, and our best is to come.”
Should England win their next three, that will be four in succession - a sequence they have not managed in any format since early last summer.
Bell, however, is convinced they can - and is determined to be part of it.
“If we win all three matches, we’ll be able to look back on one of the best winters of all time,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to the quarter-final and trying to put in a man-of-the-match performance or at least one that can help us win the game.”