Ian Bell told GiveMeSport in an exclusive interview that despite tasting success in his first Ashes series in 2005, the opportunity came about too soon and that he felt: “out of his depth,” against Ricky Ponting’s team.
The Ashes is the greatest challenge for any English or Australian cricketer and remains sport’s most celebrated of rivalries dating back to 1882. For a 23-year-old Bell, this was the challenge he had worked so hard for, but he felt it had come too soon.
He began the season with Warwickshire in blistering form, scoring 480 runs in April alone, resulting in an England recall for the two Test series against Bangladesh.
As expected, England dominated their subcontinent rivals to such an extent, Bell only had two opportunities to prove himself at the crease and cement his place in the squad for the forthcoming Ashes series.
He made his case by contributing 65 not out in the first Test and then scored his maiden Test hundred in the second, an unbeaten 162.
With Graham Thorpe, Kevin Pietersen and Bell in the running for two positions, it was the Warwickshire man and the precocious talent of Pietersen that got the nod.
Everything Bell had been striving for was slowly unfolding, first the opportunity to represent his country, and now Ashes cricket.
Despite signs of a revival in English cricket, the task that lay ahead was more than a challenge and one that most cricket fans around the world felt would only end up one way, in favour of Australia.
The “Baggy Greens,” had dominated world cricket for the previous ten-years and had failed to lose an Ashes series since 1989, eight consecutive wins to be more specific.
If then captain, Michael Vaughan and coach Duncan Fletcher turned a blind eye to those statistics, then they couldn't do the same to Australia’s team sheet.
Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath……and more, one of the best teams of all time?
Certainly one that would make a great debate at the Cricketers Arms.
“It was a great one to be involved in.” Bell recalled: “Arguably one of the best series of all time. The Edgbaston Test was probably the best I ever played in,” the Warwickshire man referring to the second Test which saw England scrape through by two runs and level the series after being thrashed by 239 runs in the first Test at Lords.
“For me it was a big learning curve. I was probably out of my depth a little bit and wasn't ready for that level of Test cricket.”
“I learned a lot of lessons there, from the likes of watching Ponting bat, Justin Langer, Hayden, Damien Martin and the way their bowling attack bowled as well.”
Despite England clinching the series 2-1 against all the odds, Bell by his own admission still felt at the time that he didn't belong at that level quite yet. Two half centuries in the third Test, his only contribution throughout the series might have support that fact.
The question bodes that despite the 32-year-old’s comments, would he be the player his is today if he wasn't subjected to that experience?
For me the answer is simple, absolutely not!
The 2006/07 Ashes series in Australia was a disaster for England, much like the 2013/14 campaign, on both occasions the Australian’s coming out on top 5-0.
However these are the experiences that Bell and some of the senior players need to call upon as they guide their country into a new era.
“Sometimes you learn more in defeat than you do when you are winning, and I have said to the younger guys that after a horrible winter for England cricket supporters and the team itself, that it has happened before in 2006/07.”
Referring to some of his team mates at the time: “A lot of those guys came back stronger and then had some of the best years of English cricket for six or seven years after that, so it is possible to turn things around but you have to learn from those lessons.”
Bell and England certainly did learn, they regained the Ashes at home in 2009, and then won in Australia for the first time since Mike Gatting and his team achieved the feat in 1986.
The Warwickshire man will without question be crucial alongside captain Alastair Cook in harnessing that experience of failure, and transforming it into a positive platform for the new crop of England cricketers to rekindle a winning era.