One of England’s most gifted batsman of his generation, Ian Bell, joins the elite 100-Test club for England when he takes to the field at Headingley for the second Test against Sri Lanka on Friday.
In an exclusive interview with GiveMeSport, overlooking the outfield of the iconic Lord’s, Bell reflected on what was a childhood dream that is about to come true.
He reflected on his early days and in particular the ambition that he always harboured of becoming the twelfth Englishman to reach the milestone of 100-Test caps for his country.
The Warwickshire man recalled: “All I ever wanted to do was play for England. I have been very lucky so far to have spent ten years with this England team. It’s a dream come true to play for this long for your country and I am excited and proud at what I have done.”
The 32-year-old made his debut for Warwickshire as a 16-year old, and shortly after he found himself on a plane to New Zealand after being selected for the England under-19 team.
His ability to apply himself for long periods of time at the crease, and most notably his textbook perfect technique, often led to comparisons with then England captain and opening batsman Michael Atherton.
However it was his belief, despite the weight of expectation, that has provided the backbone of his success for England which includes four-Test hundreds at lord’s.
When asked if he ever felt he would achieve so much at the highest level with England, Bell responded: “ I always believed I could do, I felt there was a bit of pressure, a lot of people talking me up to do so.”
“But my dream was to play 100-Tests for England. Some people might say it was a high goal to set, but that is all I wanted to do.”
Bell went on to tell GiveMeSport that the achievements of two former England captains, Alec Stewart and Michael Atherton, both of whom reached the milestone of 100-Test caps for England, inspired him into fulfilling his dream.
Bell’s elevation to the senior side came in 2004 against the West indies in the final Test of a very successful England summer.
At just 22, and despite scoring a superb 70 batting at five, he admitted: “I wasn't the finished article or perhaps ready for Test cricket.”
“It took a bit of time to establish myself but over the last six years I am exactly where I want to be. I have enjoyed every minute of it.”
Bell’s experience during his initial Test career will be crucial to England going forward today. He made is debut in a team that was just finishing off an unbeaten Test summer and coming into a winning dressing room is always a good environment for a young sportsman.
Adding to this, he stressed the senior players welcomed him into the fold, enabling him to settle into the environment and to play with a degree of confidence, something today’s senior players will will have a focus on as English cricket begins a new era.
Bell underlined his credentials in the Test arena with a maiden hundred against Bangladesh in only his third appearance, and followed that up with another on the subcontinent against Pakistan later in the year.
After 36 Tests the Warwickshire right-hander had seven hundreds to his name however if there was any criticism, none of those were scored against the best team in the world at the time, Australia.
Word was travelling around that his weakness was against the short ball and exploiting that would get to him mentally.
That no longer remains the case as Bell has matured through experience and perhaps a contributing factor was scoring 199 against South Africa at Lords.
He followed that up with another one against the aggressive pace attack of South Africa in Durban, however his 115 in 2011 against Australia in Sydney, appeared to have eradicated any doubts he might have had in his ability, as he kicked on with another four centuries that year.
Arguably his best series to date was against the old enemy Australia, in the 2013 home-leg of the Ashes.
Bell scored 562 runs at an average of 63, including three consecutive hundreds, the first time this had been achieved by an Englishman since Chris Broad in 1986.
Bell currently averages just over 45 in 99-Tests, and make no mistake, that is a very good average at this level.
However in an era which has seen players of the calibre of Jacques Kallis, Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar and AB de Villiers to mention a few, all of whom average well over 50, you can bet Ian Bell will have a quiet determination to reach those dizzy heights before time is called on his career.