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Brilliant Bell the pick of the bunch

Posted in England v India 2011

Ian Bell

Ian Bell hits out en route to a superb 235 at the Kia Oval

If you were asked to select the best batsman in the current England Test team, who would you choose?

One thing is clear: there is no shortage of candidates.

If I was to guess, I would suggest Alastair Cook might be the man at the top of most people's list.

The gritty left-handed opener has, after all, taken his game to new heights over the last 12 months, amassing a scarcely believable 766 runs in England's historic Ashes triumph Down Under and compiling an epic 294 against India just last week.

Cook has 19 Test centuries, three short of his country's all-time record, and was joined on that number yesterday by Kevin Pietersen, a man fêted as England's star performer for several years.

As evidenced by his entertaining 175 at the Kia Oval, which followed an unbeaten 202 in the first npower Test against India at Lord's, Pietersen now appears to be operating at the peak of his powers once again.

He too would surely win many people's vote, while skipper Andrew Strauss is another with 19 hundreds to his name in the premier form of the game, having proven his quality over a lengthy period of time.

Then, of course, there is Jonathan Trott, who has unfortunately missed the last two Tests with a shoulder injury he picked up while fielding at Edgbaston.

The Warwickshire batsman has made England's number three slot his own since breaking into the team two years ago - and, although he is still relatively green in terms of international matches played, his record cannot be faulted.

In my mind, however, one man currently stands out as the shining light in England's imposing batting line-up.

That man is Ian Ronald Bell.

In compiling a career-best 235 over the last two days, Bell replaced Cook as the leading scorer in Tests in 2011, with 950 runs at a sensational average of 118.75.

Ian Bell

Bell rarely strays from orthodox methods and the 29-year-old is now converting his undoubted technical ability into consistent high scores

However, statistics do not tell the full story, for it is the manner in which he plays that provides so much pleasure to so many people.

Witnessing Bell in full flow, a regular occurrence in recent times, is to see a batting textbook being brought to life.

While the introduction of Twenty20 cricket has led to increased levels of innovation among batsmen, he rarely eschews the orthodox approach.

The vast majority of the 29-year-old’s runs are accumulated with an elegance and grace rarely seen in the modern era and his mastery of certain shots, such as the late cut that has almost become his trademark, appears unmatched.

In many ways, Bell’s development into one of the most prolific batsmen in world cricket comes as no surprise; such was the potential he showed at a young age.

However, he initially struggled to make the most of his undoubted talent, leading many to question whether he had the mental strength to succeed at the highest level.

Having emphatically answered all his critics with a string of stellar performances, it seems apt that Bell has surpassed his previous highest Test score of 199 this week at the Kia Oval, a ground where he has endured misery in the past.

His previous 11 innings here had featured six single-figure scores, including a pair in the final Test of the 2005 Ashes.

Back then, Bell was finding it hard to justify his place in England’s starting XI. Now, he may just be the cream of an exceptionally gifted crop.

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