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Bell should not rush into retirement – England have few alternatives

Posted on | August 23, 2015 | 7 Comments

Although England lost the two London Tests by a landslide, they won the Ashes against the bookmakers’ odds and the judgment of many of us ex-players. It was a series with some exhilarating moments of drama, and we must congratulate Alastair Cook and his men for regaining the urn.

Having said that, there are not many batsmen on either side who have enhanced their reputation. And in this context, it is a concern for me that Ian Bell is considering his future as an international cricketer. My advice would be to do nothing, go away and have a month’s rest; do not make such an important decision when you’re feeling lethargic and out of sorts. Bell should take a holiday – he has time, because England don’t go to the United Arab Emirates until early October – and only then should he ask himself whether he feels like going to the nets. Does he have the hunger, the energy and desire? If not, then call it a day. But it’s a bad time to make a decision now.

If Bell’s appetite has genuinely faded, then we can wave him goodbye and salute him for a good career. In this series he only made three half-centuries, including the two on his home patch which were his best innings. It is not enough from a man with 115 Test caps. At the crease, he was fidgety and looked ill at ease. I was uncomfortable watching him, and I like his batting.

 

But if he could regain some enthusiasm, there are spaces available because of the alarming lack of quality county batsmen pushing for spaces in this England side. People keep talking about Alex Hales as an opener, but he’s a front-foot player. If he goes up against Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel in South Africa, they will eat him for breakfast. There is also Gary Ballance to come back in, perhaps, but only if he bats down the order. He is not a top-three man.

In this series, almost all the batsmen have had issues with concentration, patience and the ability to leave the ball outside off stump. There has been an inability to adapt to any of the variables that make Test cricket so challenging: the moving ball, the state of the pitch, the scoreboard pressure, even a good spell by a particular bowler.

None of us want to be churlish when we’ve actually beaten Australia, but even the new coach, Trevor Bayliss, has acknowledged that there are things to work on regarding our batting. We need more consistency as a unit and not just to rely on Cook and Joe Root. These two would walk into any world XI but outside of them, who has done well? The series has been won on the bowling of James Anderson at Cardiff, Anderson and Steve Finn at Edgbaston, and Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes at Trent Bridge. In two of those matches, at awkward moments when the top order was wobbling, Root made 134 at Cardiff and 130 at Trent Bridge.

 

Conversely, Australia’s two wins revolved around Steve Smith, who made a double-hundred at Lord’s and another big score at the Oval. The whole series has been completed in 18 days of cricket, which is ridiculous. I have been advocating four-day Tests for years now, even with over rates of 13 and a half per hour. If we ever went back to 15 or 16 an hour, the games would be over in three days.

For so long, England have unable to solve the opening slot. In county cricket the quality of bowling isn’t that high, so openers can score fairly quickly. When they move up to Test level the bowlers are better so the batsmen get fewer easy balls to hit and are becalmed. Pressure builds on them to score, so they look to hit balls that they shouldn’t be playing at, or they make bad shots and get out.

Lyth had nine innings, and in six of the nine he was undone by shocking shot selection or poor footwork to the new ball. You cannot give your wicket away two‑thirds of the time to top-class bowlers and expect to survive at international level. You have to keep making them bowl you out with good balls.

 

Cook provides the perfect example for the next guy who opens for England. His first thought is to stay in and protect his wicket. He does not go looking to score. He waits til the opposition get fed up of bowling wide, and send down a few balls in what he considers his safe and easy areas. He does not mind if it takes him quite a long time.

England also need more from Jos Buttler, who has an extraordinary shot-playing talent. At times in one-day cricket he is breathtaking. But throughout this Test series, his defence has been naive and lacking footwork. Buttler needs runs to keep his wicketkeeping position because, though his glovework is improving, it is not special. Jonny Bairstow could do just as good a job behind the stumps. But Bairstow and Stokes at No 5 and No 6 also need to harness their attacking talent because they have had some poor dismissals. There is a tough winter coming up and England will need to show resolve as well as dashing intent.

 

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