A dynasty. That’s what Ian Bell wants to build at Warwickshire.
Last season saw him lead his county for the first time and end it lifting silverware with the Royal London One Day Cup. And on the eve of the new season, he's signed a new deal to keep him at Edgbaston until 2020.
It was fitting given Bell’s love affair with the game, and indeed Warwickshire, was honed from watching his boyhood club in showpiece events such as Lord’s finals. Yet Bell, for all the nostalgia that came with occasion, cannot shirk the feeling that 2016 could and perhaps should have been better.
“Winning the Royal London Cup trophy at Lord’s and beating a good side like Surrey in front of a packed house, as well as getting to T20 Blast Finals Day – those are the stages you want to play on," he said.
Not sure about you, but we think we're in love 😍 pic.twitter.com/ubMpsjlDih— County Championship (@CountyChamp) April 1, 2017
"For me, my earliest memories of cricket was going to Lord’s and watching Warwickshire dominate. That was the start of me wanting to be a professional cricketer. To go to Lord’s last year was just another reminder of why I play the game.
“While that was a massive high, we were a little bit disappointing in four-day cricket. We played well in parts of the season but the consistency wasn’t there.”
Warwickshire finished sixth in Division One last season, flirting with relegation just for a moment. Still, one-day success was by no means a formality, as Bell acknowledges.
“Unlike in the Championship and T20 Blast, we actually started slowly in the 50-over competition. But we gathered pace as it went on and we always have a belief here that, once we get to quarter and semi-finals, that’s when we play our best stuff.”
For Bell, personally, 2017 will be about growing as a captain and restating his international credentials. He admits to being distracted by off-field matters after an impressive start but is keen that 2017 is the year he makes amends.
And by signing a new contract that will take him to 21 years service at Warwickshire, he's desperate to add to the six domestic trophies he has won with the club and accumulate the runs that could lead to an England recall.
“Warwickshire is the only county that I’ve ever wanted to play for and I’m thrilled to sign this new long-term contract to remain a proud Bear and help the team to push for even more silverware," he said.
“As last season went on, my form fell off. I want to get back in the England team and I know averaging 35 is not going to do that. I needed to get my four-day cricket up to a better level. I didn’t capitalise on a lot of starts. I’ve still got the hunger to do it, turning 35. I still feel I’ve got a couple of years of cricket left. The desperation is there."
So what does success in 2017 entail for Warwickshire? With the calming influence of Ashley Giles back at Edgbaston, along with Jim Troughton’s new role as first team coach, Bell has eyes for the top.
Jeetan Patel was unstoppable in 2016— County Championship (@CountyChamp) March 26, 2017
Just the 4️⃣ Championship five-fors & 69 wickets last season... pic.twitter.com/voj7UhhB6E
“We are setting out to win the Championship. But a top three finish would be a massive improvement on last year. Looking at our team on paper, we’re definitely good enough to win it. If we fire this year, we’re as dangerous as anyone in the division."
As Bell enters the twilight years of a glittering career, he and fellow Warwickshire stalwart Jonathan Trott are well aware of their resposibilities to help through the next generation of talent.
“There’ll be opportunities for some exciting young players to come through," he said. "Throughout the season I want to be able to pass on my experiences to them, along with Jonathan Trott. We hope by the time we move on, Warwickshire will still be one of the top counties. We want to leave it in a really good place."