Anything You Can Do...

I haven't seen enough of the first two days of the Old Trafford Test. In fact I haven't seen any of it live because I've had to go to work. Inconvenient, that.

Obviously I have been keeping a regular eye on Cricinfo, listening to bits of TMS and I've seen the Sky highlights on the first two evenings, so I have a good idea of what's gone on.

It was great to see Alastair Cook get another hundred, but even better to watch Ian Bell do so, especially when it sounded (and looked) like his best innings for England.

After watching Cook score 89 against Sri Lanka at Lord's in May (and having seen his debut in Nagpur on television) I started telling people that I thought he was going to be England's next truly great batsman. During and after his Lord's century against Pakistan I started to wonder if I'd got a bit too excited, but I now think I got it about right. There's a poise, style and maturity of temperament about Cook that is truly remarkable, and, as he already has a sound defence and a wide range of strokes which will get better, it's a case, for the next ten or twelve years, of 'look out world'.

Bell I'm just really pleased about. Like most people I've had my eye on him for a few years. First saw him play for England Under-19s in the late nineties, knew what Dayle Hadlee had said about him being the best sixteen year-old he'd ever seen, saw his unbeaten 65 in the 2002 Benson and Hedges final, waited for him to do it for England. Saw the assured debut versus the West Indies, the boot-filling against Bangladesh, the struggles against Australia and the intermittent runs during last winter.

I remained a believer, but just a few weeks ago a group of 'Cricket Writers on TV' (couldn't anyone think of a more original title?) were discussing their doubts about his temperament and wondering if he really had it in him to succeed at the highest level.

I can't be sure as I've never got anywhere near meeting him, but Bell does give an impression of diffidence. This doesn't, however, mean that he can't bat. In most cases (and the exceptions are widely known), true quality will always reveal itself, and that is what is now happening with Bell.

I never saw him play as a real junior but, seeing him walk out now it doesn't take a great leap of the imagination to see him as a tiny thirteen year-old, the sort of kid who looks as though he's not sure he should be there but goes on to bat like a dream. His technique isn't completely perfect (there's still work to be done around and outside off stump for sure) but it isn't at all bad to be going on with.
And nor are his runs.

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