On the latest episode of the Wisden Cricket Weekly Podcast, the panel looked back on the career of Ian Bell, the former England batsman who will retire after the conclusion of the 2020 domestic season.
The 38-year-old hit 22 Test centuries in an 11-year international career, winning the Ashes five times and playing a key role in the side that went to the top of the Test rankings in 2011.
Host Yas Rana was joined by Wisden Cricket Monthly magazine editor Jo Harman, WCM staff writer James Wallace and Wisden.com features editor Taha Hashim to pick out some standout moments from Bell’s career.
235 v India, The Oval, 2011
TH: It’s more just one that stands out, and it’s his 235 at The Oval. We talk about the 2013 Ashes as cementing Bell as a modern England great, but in 2011, he averaged 119 with the bat across eight Tests! The 235 was the crowning glory. He hit five centuries [that year]. Bell, by then, was already on the path, he was there. He said this to you too, Jo, that that was the best he batted for England. That’s the innings that stands out for me.
59 & 65 v Australia, Old Trafford, 2005
JW: Mine is nostalgia-themed, and it’s 2005. I went as a 16, 17-year-old to the Old Trafford Test and I watched both of his fifties. He’d got a 70 before against West Indies the year before [on debut]. People seem to forget that Kevin Pietersen sort of bullied Graham Thorpe out of that side, but Bell batted at four in that series and he wasn’t getting a lot of runs, and he was targeted by Shane Warne, with the whole Sherminator thing. He looked really young and out of his depth, and I though in that match he batted really well with [Michael] Vaughan, and in the second innings he got 60-odd  and it cemented his place in the side. Even then, he had that cover drive.
53 v Australia, Edgbaston, 2015
YR: My favourite one was from a similar situation, but 10 years later, in the 2015 Ashes, when there was peak Binary Bell chat – he was getting out for 0 and 1 quite a lot. A lot of people thought he should’ve been dropped – I think I probably did. This was when Jonny Bairstow was scoring millions of runs for Yorkshire so he kind of had to play, and England had to drop one of Bell and Ballance, and they ended up dropping Ballance. At the Edgbaston game, Jimmy took six on a very grey morning and Ian Bell came in at No.3, and the ovation and welcome he got from the well-lubricated Edgbaston crowd was amazing. He came out and scored a run-a-ball 50, batting brilliantly. Just as it was getting really dark, he comes down the wicket and gets caught off Nathan Lyon, from I think the last [penultimate] over of the day. That day was amazing.
140 v South Africa, Durban, 2009
JH: Mine is sandwiched between Taha’s and Jim’s. It’s kind of the transition from one to another, which was on the 2009/10 tour of South Africa. Bell had had a bit of a shocker in the lead up to that. He’d been dropped on the tour of Caribbean earlier that year after England were skittled for 51 in Jamaica. Then he’d got his place back but not very solidly. He’d begun that tour at the Centurion by getting 5 and 2. In the first innings he left a completely straight delivery from Paul Harris, who has never spun a ball in his career. It was completely inexplicable, a brain fart basically.
Then in the next match he scores a brilliant century at Durban, still doesn’t break the duck of scoring a century when no-one else did, because Cook scored a century earlier in that innings. So still at this point he hasn’t broken that duck. But it was basically a match-winning knock, played really bravely, played his shots even when he was under pressure and got England to a big first-innings total, and they went on to win that match.
I was just looking up the reports of that game earlier and it struck me that The Telegraph described that Durban innings as a career-saving knock, which is probably an exaggeration, but it’s strange to think that at that point, before Duban, he’d played 50 Tests, averaged 39, two Ashes series win but not done much in either of them. If that had been it that would have been an average, unfulfilled career. At that point you could say Bell was underperforming, but what happened in the years that followed Durban – and there were peaks and troughs – but there were proper match-winning knocks that justified all the hype that had come through when he was 15, 16.