The name of Ian Bell is unlikely to strike fear into Australian cricket fans. Bell’s record against Australia is underwhwelming, to say the least. Both Bell’s average and strike-rate against Australia are well down on his career statistics. Bell averages 27.61 against Australia (even that lowly figure received a modest bump from his innings-high 72 yesterday) but 43.28 across his career, and 49.55 against all other countries. But Bell has started this summer well, scoring 192 against Australia A in the lead-up to the First Test at the ridiculously named Gabba.
Most Australians will be expecting Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen to be the highest run-scorers for England this summer, with a fair helping of grit served up by Paul Collingwood. And there is no reason to suspect this will not be the case. It is the addition of Bell’s runs that makes this scenario formidable. Australia will be planning their attack around Strauss and Pietersen while knowing that the English pair will get away from them at times. If Bell starts to produce the number of runs he is promising to then Australia are going to be faced with significantly bigger opposition totals.
A contributing factor to Bell’s possible emergence this summer is the weakened Australian attack. No bowlers remain from the last Ashes series played in Australia, when Bell averaged 33.1. While last year’s Ashes series was disappointing for Bell (140 runs at 28), he was plagued by Mitchell Johnson who picked up Bell’s wicket five out of six times. (The last dismissal went to Peter Siddle, but Bell was not among his six victims yesterday.) However, Johnson’s form has not been good for a while now and we saw yesterday that, without Johnson firing, Bell was able to make a decent score. And Bell will be disappointed with the way that he was removed.
If Bell does flourish this summer then England are going to be tough to beat. In some ways, Bell’s success will be the measuring stick of Mitchell Johnson’s performance. If Johnson manages to regain his form—and with the enigmatic Johnson that could happen in one spell—that will tip the series in favour of the Australians. Regardless of whether we regard it as a success of Bell’s, or as a failure of Johnson’s—and that will come out in the details—if Bell averages close to 50 then England are going to be very difficult to beat.