There was once a time when Australia were Ian Bell’s bogey team. Now, he cannot stop scoring centuries against them.
Make that four centuries in the past five Ashes Tests for England’s new star batsman, who is outshining the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook in what is rapidly becoming a career-defining series.
“Fortunately, I’ve come good in the series that is the biggest one for us,” Bell said with a broad smile.
Australia are starting to get sick of the sight of the diminutive Bell, whose unbeaten knock of 105 at Chester-le-Street on Sunday put England in the driving seat to not only win the fourth Test, but also win a third straight Ashes series.
Before the Ashes Test in Sydney in January 2011, Bell had gone 29 innings and six years without reaching three figures against Australia.
Bangladesh? Pakistan? West Indies? New Zealand?
No problem, but not Australia.
Then he made 115 at the Sydney Cricket Ground and he has not looked back. He scored 109 in the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge in Nottingham this year and the same score at Lord’s in London in the second Test. There have also been a smattering of half-centuries.
“I believed I was good enough to score Test hundreds against Australia, but it did take a while — my first two series were against arguably one of the best teams of all time,” Bell said. “So it’s been enjoyable this time to score some hundreds and maybe put to bed some of the stuff I have done in the past.”
Whatever the tourists tried on Sunday, Warwickshire’s Bell was always one step ahead.
He was even knocked off his feet by a rapid, rising delivery by Ryan Harris, but Bell had still managed to stay in full control of the situation, gloving the ball down and to safety.
So what has changed for Bell?
His technique has always been highly thought of, but mental strength was often found wanting in the early part of his Test career.
He no longer gets ruffled. England have been three wickets down for between 20 and 40 four times this series, but he has not been flustered. He has not tried to force the runs, or push too hard.
“The thing I’ve tried to do is forget the situation,” Bell said. “I’ve felt in pretty good touch and that’s a nice place to be. I keep it simple — watch the ball, play the ball. It doesn’t matter if we’re 100-1 or 20-3, it’s the same game.”