Pakistan v England: Curtains closing on Ian Bell’s ODI career
Ian Bell's exclusion from the ODI and T20 squads to face Pakistan could spell the end of his limited overs career for England
Ian Bell’s omission from England’s ODI and T20 squads for the forthcoming fixtures against Pakistan could prove to be a watershed moment in his career.
The 29-year-old, a veteran of 108 ODIs, may well have played his last limited overs match for England.
Bell suffered a torrid time in the recent Test series, averaging just 8.5 runs and looking uncomfortable against the Pakistani spinners, particularly Saeed Ajmal.
His poor form and uncertainty against spin was compounded by the mystery of Ajmal’s doosra and he was unable to pick the off-spinner’s magic ball.
And Tuesday’s news that Kevin Pietersen will open the batting – coupled with 21-year-old Jos Buttler’s inclusion in the ODI squad for the first time – will do little to inspire thoughts of a future return.
England coach Andy Flower is renowned for making ruthless but fair decisions based on current form, whilst also offering young players their chance on the big stage.
Which is why, considering Bell’s performances so far in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and the fact he has passed 50 just once in his last 14 ODIs, his exclusion seems fair.
Conversely, Buttler’s form has been impressive. He has struck two centuries and one half-century in his last five matches for the England Lions whilst on tour in Sri Lanka, justifying his selection.
Unfortunately for Bell, his biggest worry happens to be Flower’s biggest hope: that the limited overs squads, boosted by talented youngsters such as Buttler and Jonny Bairstow, will gel quickly and evolve into world-beating teams.
If this happens then the Warwickshire batsman will quickly be forgotten, blown away by the whirlwind that is modern international cricket.
Flower, however, refused to slam the door on his batsman’s ODI career.
“This does not mean that his ODI career is necessarily over,” he told Sky Sports. “He’s not too old to fight his way back into the side and he’s a very fine international cricketer.
“But it depends how this group of players plays, whether any gaps open up in the future, and if he can fight his way back in then good on him.”
Whether he is able to fight his way back will be a big ‘if’. Undone once again by spin as he was in the 2005 Ashes series by Shane Warne, he will find it harder to bounce-back this time.
Ultimately, a Bell on current form is a sorry sight for England fans. They will have become used to the remodelled version; the confident, exciting batsman who last year compiled 950 Test runs at an average of 118.75.
But what a difference a year makes. The current model is a shadow of last year’s focused and free-flowing stroke-maker, and fans and pundits alike will be hoping he can address his failings against spin and rediscover that scintillating 2011 form.
So is this the end for England’s purest player? Only Bell has the answer to that, but with Flower ringing the changes the curtain looks to be closing on his ODI career.