Published On: Fri, Jun 15th, 2018

Rejuvenated Bell concedes England days are gone

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Ian Bell struck two hundreds in a match © Getty Images

Not so long ago, probably even at this time last season, had Ian Bell walked off a cricket field after scoring one hundred, let alone two in the same match, there would have been one thought only in his mind:

Am I going to get the England phone call I’ve been waiting for?

This week he did precisely that, supplementing an unbeaten 106 in the first innings of Warwickshire’s Championship match against Glamorgan with 115 not out in the second, hitting the winning boundary for good measure.

This time, though, there was no sense of expectation, of anticipation, even of elusive possibility. Quite the opposite.

Struggling for form, Bell has not played a Test match since November 2015 but has never followed the lead of others of his vintage by announcing his retirement from Test cricket, insisting always that adding to his 118 caps remained his goal.

Yet this time, even after such a notable achievement – he had managed two hundreds in a match only once before – he admitted that finally he has come to terms with his international career being over.

What’s more, he feels so much better for it.

“Listen, I’m 36 now,” he said. “I think it has probably gone now. I accept that.

“These last couple of years have been tough. I probably didn’t deal with not playing for England as well as I could have done.

“With England, towards the end, looking back, I wasn’t enjoying training as much. I was in that burnt-out mindset.

“When I was out of the side, sometimes I wanted to play, other times I didn’t want to play. There were a lot of things going on in my mind.”

His form for Warwickshire suffered, initially in 2016 but more so last summer as the county were relegated. His contribution was a meagre 596 runs at an average of 25.91. It was the poorest season of his career.

Vintage Ian Bell as he unfurls a cover drive against New Zealand © Getty Images

He was dropped from the Birmingham Bears team in the NatWest Blast, which hurt him, and ultimately resigned the captaincy of the four-day side, a job he had accepted with great pride, aware that neither his form nor his leadership were helping the team.

“It was hard,” he said. “Not getting the runs was difficult. When you are a captain you want to lead from the front so that was the disappointing thing.

“It was disappointing to give up the captaincy but in the end it wasn’t that difficult because I wanted to do what was best for the team and remaining as captain was not helping.”

He does not say if he considered quitting the game altogether but he knew he had to do something. He struggled through to the end of the season, his first without a first-class century since 2002, with a view then to taking a long break.

“I didn’t pick up a bat until after Christmas, which is something I’d never done before,” he said. “I’d not had a winter where I didn’t do anything since I was 16.

“I was not in a particularly good place with my batting and there were things I needed to sort out with that, but I just felt I needed to clear my mind.

“It did me the world of good. It gave me the chance to think about things and reset my goals and I came back after Christmas feeling really fresh.

“I enjoyed training again, had a really good pre-season and I’ve felt good really since the season began.

“I know what I want to do, which is to score runs and win as many games as I can with Warwickshire, and to have as many days like this as I can for the rest of this season and the remainder of my career.

“I’m contracted here until the end of 2020 and I haven’t made any retirement plans as yet. We have some good players here and I want to help the development of this team. That’s my focus now.”

Two centuries from one player in the same match does not happen frequently, even among the very best batsmen. The only time Bell did it previously – the last time any Warwickshire batsman achieved it, in fact – was at Old Trafford in July 2004, against Lancashire, during a season in which he scored six first-class hundreds and amassed more than 1700 runs.

As it happens, three weeks later he was called up for his Test debut against the West Indies at The Oval. This time, he chose the moment to accept that a distinguished England career lay in the past.

ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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