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Bell calls for batting revival

Andrew McGlashan
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Ian Bell was named England's Player of the Year for his Ashes returns last summer © AFP
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Ian Bell, who has been named England's Player of the Year, has demanded an improvement in the team's "limp" batting returns over the last year as they prepare to resume Test cricket against Sri Lanka.

Bell's three Ashes hundreds in 2013 feel a lifetime ago for English cricket, given what has gone on since, but they were the key reason why he secured the award ahead of Stuart Broad and Joe Root.

The timeframe covered runs from the beginning of the 2013 English season to the end of the recent World T20 and Bell's performances in the home Ashes, where he became just the third England batsman, and first since David Gower in 1985, to score three hundreds in a home series against Australia, propelled him ahead of Broad, who was one of the few players to emerge from the 5-0 whitewash in the return Ashes with any credit.

Bell's 562 runs in the five home Tests carried a batting order for which a malaise was already setting in and would go on to be exposed in dramatic fashion during the series in Australia. England have not posted 400 in a Test innings since facing New Zealand, in Wellington, last March - 13 Tests ago. In Australia, they only managed to reach 300 twice and both of those occasions, in Adelaide and Perth, were when the Test was long gone.

"We need to get back to the scores that give our bowlers the best chance of taking 20 wickets," Bell said. "We've been a bit limp in the batting department for a while so it is about time we got back to basics with putting scores on the board.

"You're looking for the senior players to lead the way, so of course myself and Cooky have to shoulder plenty of responsibility in that department. We are the men who have been there and done it and scored the big hundreds, so it is time for us to do so again. It feels good delivering out in the middle when you know that people are expecting you to score runs.

"It is not good enough to get to 50 or 60 and think your job is done. You've got to kick on and produce a big hundred. I've got no doubt we can take 20 wickets at home so it is up to the batsmen to put the score on the board that gives our bowlers what they need in time and volume."

The period covered by the award included 12 Test matches - two against New Zealand and 10 against Australia - and Bell's struggles in Australia, where he averaged 26.11, pulled his overall average down 39.54, although he insisted he continued to feel in good form throughout the bombing by Mitchell Johnson.

"It is a good reminder of what we did back then, and although it was a disappointing winter it is nice to get some recognition for what happened before that," said Bell, who along with Michael Clarke was the only batsman to hit 1000 Test runs in 2013. "It felt like a good year with the bat for me and even in Australia I still felt in decent nick. I'm hitting the ball as well as I ever have in an England shirt. Hopefully this is the start of something special for me and the team, helping some of these young guys through."

Fitness permitting, Bell will play his 100th Test against Sri Lanka at Headingley next week - nearly 10 years after making his debut against West Indies at The Oval. He is now part of a smaller senior core of the England team alongside Alastair Cook, Stuart Broad, James Anderson and the recalled Matt Prior after the losses, over the winter for various reasons, of Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott and Graeme Swann.

"Now is a good time for us to take the team forward," Bell said. "It feels like an exciting challenge, being a leader in the group. It is a different situation for us all. Over the past five or six years the team has been so settled with guys playing a lot of cricket with each other and suddenly this is a new place with new goals.

"Even being around the one-day squad, all the new faces have brought some excitement. It is up to me and the other four experienced players to pass on some information and help them through it. It is all well and good talking about the game and what is required, but we've got to walk the walk too and show the newer players what is expected."

Prior was the previous recipient of this award, but just days after being named he bagged a pair against New Zealand at Lord's at the beginning of what became a lean summer and his troubles extended into the away Ashes where he was eventually dropped. Bell, however, is not the superstitious type.

"I certainly hope to buck that trend," he said. "I hope I don't go the same way. I know Matt had a tough time last year, but that is probably more to do with the fact he had played so well for so long beforehand. I'm sure there will be a laugh and a joke about it in the dressing room later about that, but I don't believe in curses."

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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