England Test batsman Ian Bell, revealed in an exclusive interview with GiveMeSport, that harnessing the mental side of his game was something that didn't come as naturally as his technical ability and was a part of his game that he only came to terms with after four years of Test cricket.
The ability to understand and control one’s mental approach under the most extreme pressure is the single biggest factor that contributes to the success or failure of the world’s greatest athletes.
Olympic Champions, World Cup winners, Grand Slam winners and Major Champions are all eventually defined by their achievements of reaching these stunning goals, but what sets them apart from their peers and competitors, is not the natural ability that they all possess, but how they leverage that talent mentally when it matters most.
Big match temperament is term I have always used, something England batsman Ian Bell lacked during the first four years of his international career.
Bell is unquestionably one of the most technically gifted players of his generation, not only in England, but in the world game, however by his own admission he lacked the big match temperament for the best part of the first 45-Tests of his career.
The Warwickshire man told GiveMeSport: “For me mental toughness is probably the key to staying around as long as you can, and for me it was something that I didn't really understand as a young player. I had a lot of ability and a lot of talent but didn't understand what the mental game was all about until my 45th-Test match.”
The 32-year-old reflected: “It is something I wish I would have had naturally or wish it was something I had in my early days, but it took a bit of time to work on and understand it.
“There is no doubt that you need that to be around and probably more than a good technique.”
There are a number of examples of supremely talented cricketers that failed to master the mental side of their games, Graeme Hick and Mark Ramprakash being perfect examples.
Hick and Ramprakash spent the best part of 20-years dominating the world’s best bowlers at county level, but when it really mattered at Test level, they simply couldn't deliver on a consistent basis.
Like Bell, Hick and Ramprakash where dropped on a number of occasions by England however unlike the Warwickshire man, the pair played during an era when the England management lacked the skills to bring out the best of each player individually, resulting in a waste of some of the talented resources available to England.
Bell had the fortune during his initial Test years of playing in a team that was thriving and under coach Duncan Fletcher. Few would argue Fletcher is one of the best out there when it comes to knowing what makes each individual tick and how to bring out the best in them.
Learning your trade in an environment and infrastructure of this nature is far more beneficial than the one Hick and Ramprakash were part of, I have little doubt in that.
With experience, comes maturity, and it was around the 40-45 Test mark that England fans would have seen the England man finally getting to grips with his mental side.
In a partnership of 286 with Kevin Pietersen at Lord’s, Bell contributed a superb 199 against what at the time was probably the best attack in world cricket when you factor in Steyn, Ntini, Morkel and Kallis.
Previously, the classy right-handed batsman had been a tad guilty of only scoring runs off the back of a solid platform laid by his team mates, however in recent years his mental strides have enabled him to perform when his team needs him most.
When asked which one of his Test hundreds ranked up there with the best of his career, Bell responded: “ The hundred here against Australia at Lord’s was the best one for me. To score a hundred at Lord’s is the best place to do it but to get it against Australia makes it that much more special.
“The hundred against South Africa in Durban, back into the team having been left out left out. That was a turning point in my career and since that innings things have really kicked on nicely and I haven't really looked back since then.”
There is little doubt that England’s most gifted stroke-maker is in a good place mentally after the experience of 99-Test matches, and at just 32-years of age: “Belly,” still has plenty to offer his country and I expect the best is yet to come.