Run hungry Bell on verge of joining elite club

Published: Wednesday, August 16, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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London:Only one Englishman, Ken Barrington, has ever scored four hundreds in as many Tests. But if Ian Bell reaches three figures at the late Surrey great's Oval home ground during the fourth and final Test against Pakistan starting Thursday, a new name will enter the record books.

Barrington was a mainstay of England's middle-order throughout the 1950s and 1960s. By contrast Bell, only regained his place in the England side this season because of star all-rounder Andrew Flintoff's ankle injury.

But having thought he was only making a one-off appearance in the series opener at Lord's, when it was thought Flintoff would return at Old Trafford, Bell has seized his chance superbly.

Dropped for the first Test of the English season against Sri Lanka, the Warwickshire batsman, revelling in his new No 6 slot, has responded with scores of 100 not out, 106 not out and 119.

It is all a far cry from his last Test appearance at The Oval where the clearly overawed and nervous Warwickshire batsman bagged a pair in England's Ashes-clinching draw against Australia.

Those yet to be convinced of the 24-year-old right-hander's merits will point to an Australia attack featuring Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne and a Pakistan one missing Shoaib Akhtar, Rana Naved and Mohammad Asif, as evidence that Bell's credentials as a top-class batsman have still to be verified.

But even so Bell's renaissance was far from certain.

"When I went to Lord's for the first Test I thought it was a one-off and came out of that with a hundred and thought I'd done what I needed to in that one-off game," he explained.

"That changed when Fred (Flintoff) was ruled out for the rest of the series, but the one thing I really wanted to do was to achieve some consistency because I think that's probably been lacking when I've played before.

"I really wanted to achieve some real consistency in this series and thankfully I've been able to do that."

For Bell, the turning point was being left out of the Lord's Test was the turning point.

"It's not something I want to be doing again. It was a real chance to look at things and correct a few things which I thought weren't right and work on areas I believe I can get better in - that setback and being left out has definitely helped me.

"I've always enjoyed my cricket but I'm not sure I always believed I should be out there and good enough for that level. Now I believe I am and I've been happy with the way I played."

Now Bell, with the first Ashes Test starting in Brisbane in November, can't wait to show the Australians he is a changed player to the one who averaged a meagre 17.10 against them in five Tests last year.

"I hope it will be a different Ian Bell this winter," he said. "I am someone with a lot more experience, I've had a winter on the sub-continent and a lot more cricket."

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