Cricket journalists previewing the second test between England and South Africa could do well to flick through their archives and, dare I say it, use the cut and paste button, as once again a familiar story surrounds the match build-up.
Ian Bell, the extremely talented but frustratingly inconsistent England number three (or is it four, five or six?) finds himself ‘under pressure’ going into the test and needed the support of coach Andy Flower after the inevitable questions flowed in at the pre-game press conference.
Flower backed his man of course, stating how Bell scored some runs in the warm-up game and was confident about his batting despite his howler at Centurion Park.
For those who didn’t see it, it was one of those moments it seems a safe cricket bet an upper order batsman dreads. Bell completely misjudged a Paul Harris delivery, kindly leaving the ball and watching it take out his middle stump, much to the delight and amusement of the South African fielders. Seven runs in two innings has once again put the spotlight on Bell, who has been dropped and recalled several times in recent years, but just can’t seem to nail it at international level.
Technically, you cannot really argue. He is seen as one of the more technically gifted of the group and regularly scores runs at County level and, as Flower said, in warm-up games. But when it comes to the games that matter, Bell always flatters to deceive and I wonder just how many more chances he will get; match psychology and self-confidence is just as important at the highest level as your ability to pick up the bat. You can be as calm under pressure as you like but if you can’t hit the ball you won’t be picked. The same has to be applied the other way round.
I don’t feel dropping Bell ‘to rediscover his form’ will work. England have tried that before and the familiar innings of woe continue. Instead, I fear Bell is running out of lives and one in-form batsman away from dropping out of the team permanently.
If that doesn’t force a return to form then nothing will.