Lions can make a name - Miller
The England Lions tour is a land of opportunity for Andrew Gale and others to prove themselves capable of the next step to full international honours, according to national selector Geoff Miller.
Miller speaks in glowing terms about Gale's potential, identifies a second chance for Test batsman Bell to restate his one-day international claims - and explains why the time is not yet right for the acid test of Ravi Bopara's rehabilitation.
The Essex batsman has been making runs in Auckland this winter, since being dropped from England's Test and ODI teams.
He needs to make a few more, and start next summer well, before he will be back in the frame.
"Ravi went away to sort himself out, get his game back together - and we thought the best way to allow him to continue was to leave it to the end of the winter, and then revisit it back in England," said Miller.
"We've kept an eye on him - and he's been playing pretty well. We hope he'll come back and be the force he was before he had his bad trot."
Miller stresses the lines of communication with the likes of Bopara are always open - because England have no interest in allowing rich talent to go unfulfilled.
"It's not a snub. He'll know the situation - we always keep in contact to let people know just where they stand with us," he said.
"We don't want to lose the talent of Ravi Bopara - and we think this is the best way for him to come back refreshed."
While Bopara must reinvent himself, it seems, other Lions are very upwardly mobile - none more than Gale, emerging Leicestershire batsman James Taylor and Somerset's South Africa-born wicketkeeper Craig Kieswetter.
The latter is newly qualified for England. Gale, by contrast, has been qualified for all of his 26 years since birth in Dewsbury.
Yorkshire last month made him their youngest captain since Brian Sellars, and England are clearly thinking on the same lines.
"Obviously, Yorkshire see something in him," said Miller. "He's shown us, in the performance squad, what he's capable of - at Loughborough and out here in South Africa.
"He's ticked an awful lot of boxes, and we've given him the opportunity. It's the real start of his international career."
The three-and-a-half week tour - including Twenty20 matches against Pakistan A and England and 50-over fixtures against the former - is a trip Gale himself is relishing.
"I am proud to become the England Lions captain and I am excited about the opportunities the tour will hold for us as a team and individuals," he said.
"The series against Pakistan A will give us an opportunity to test our skills against other international cricketers and will be a great way to taste the international arena."
Twenty-year-old Taylor, diminutive but nonetheless a player of stature in his one full summer of first-class cricket to date, needs to consolidate on an outstanding start.
"We hope he doesn't have a one-season syndrome, where he has to sort himself out if he gets sorted by opposition," said Miller.
"He's a very, very shrewd cookie - who played very well last year. He's worked well in the performance squad too. It will be interesting to see how he goes in foreign conditions."
Others, Bell to the fore, will have a different brief - to prove they are worthy of a recall in the limited overs arena.
Miller baulks at suggestions Bell has been relegated to a second string.
"This is not the reserve team at all," he said. "It is the Lions team, the side we pick to broaden our squad.
"He's not been involved in our one-day squad for a while. But we still feel he's a quality player (in this format), and this is Ian's chance to fight for his one-day place back again."
Miller is an enthusiastic advocate of the Lions concept.
"It gives players the opportunity to show what they can do in that step above domestic cricket," he said.
"International cricket is very, very intense now - so you can't guess from domestic cricket. There has to be a step between, and this has been fantastic for us.
"We can find out about players - how they handle it, foreign surfaces.
"We don't want it to be a closed shop. That is the message we're trying to send out. We want as many people as possible knocking on that door - but we want them to be international quality.
"This is a way of showing just how good they are. Lions is a very integral part of our system."