Bell tolls for Ian
Dave Fulton believes Ian Bell would benefit from being dropped for the second Test with the West Indies.
Last Updated: 10/02/09 8:57am
Ever since the introduction of central contracts and the subsequent creation of 'team England', England's key players have enjoyed unprecedented levels of support and backing; particularly the batsmen.
Where once a batsman's career could be cut short by a couple of failures, the new breed are made to feel like they belong, that they will get a fair crack of the whip.
Duncan Fletcher and Nasser Hussain started the trend back in 2000. They picked players and stuck with them for longer than had previously been the case and were - by and large - rewarded with good returns on their investments.
Even players drafted in because of their success in county cricket like Ian Ward, Ed Smith and Usman Afzaal were given three Tests rather than the one they might have expected in the bleak days of the late 80s through to the mid 90s.
After England's horrible capitulation for 51 in Jamaica against the lowly-ranked West Indies team, however, there is a danger that England are clinging too tightly to this cloak of continuity and collectivism.
The two Andys, captain Strauss and coach Flower, talked of avoiding knee-jerk reactions but this was not a one-off blip, it was a crash waiting to happen. Ian Bell and Alastair Cook have been below their best for more than a year, Paul Collingwood for a little longer bar a career-saving effort at Edgbaston last summer against South Africa and a second-innings 108 in Chennai where he became increasingly becalmed.
They are all fine players but under-performing batsmen can find safety in numbers, I know, I've done it myself within a county set-up.
Ian Bell needs to be dropped for the team's sake and for his. In 17 knocks he has scored just one hundred and one fifty. I'm sure he will come back a better player for it because he is a very talented young man, who has always seemed destined for great things.
I maintain my belief that one day he will be one of the best players in the world but for the moment his results from the crucial number three position are not good enough. It's hurting the team.
Bell is discovering there is no hiding place at the top level. The media pressure is intense and Owais Shah is breathing down his neck. There is no disgrace in him returning to county cricket, establishing some form before returning with hardened resolve and fortified technique. Losing your place is often the crucial kick-in-the-stomach catalyst for a better career.
Recent history tells us that many greats of the game have had to go through this process; even the mighty Australians. Steve Waugh was dropped for his brother in 1990-91, while Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting all had periods out of the Test team.
England need only look at how Strauss turned his career around having been left out 16 months ago for the tour of Sri Lanka. He was not completely cast out in the wilderness but the realisation dawned that his international career was hanging by a thread.
He got away from the spotlight, worked hard and then played domestic cricket in New Zealand. His re-introduction on the tour of New Zealand seemed a touch hasty but his 177 in the final Test proved his re-habilitation was complete.
Upon his appointment as captain Strauss said that England's players need to take more responsibility for their own performances. As captain his responsibility is to the team and the team needs a change. Without such a move the team is in danger of looking like a cosy closed shop.
There have been all mother of distractions recently including the enforced resignation of his predecessor, Pietersen, the sacking of Peter Moores and the IPL auction. The temptation will be to dig the heels in and keep everything the same. That would be a mistake. It is time for Owais Shah.