Ian Bell presses England claim with century for Warwickshire

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Ian Bell reminded England selectors of the value of experience as Warwickshire were unable to force a result against Hampshire in the first round of County Championship fixtures.

As with many of this week's four-day games, the weather curtailed any efforts towards a positive outcome but Bell almost single-handedly gave the Bears the opportunity for an unlikely last day victory.

Facing a Hampshire attack of considerable international pedigree, the veteran right-hander scored 174 off 285 balls for his 51st first-class ton.


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With the test series against Sri Lanka beginning on the 19th May, where does Bell now sit in the pecking order of England's batsmen?

Bell's omission for the successful tour of South Africa was slightly unexpected but he only averaged 26 for the whole of 2015.

Youth comes to the fore

The story of the last calendar year has been about England's young players taking the responsibility that had previously been held by Bell, Alastair Cook and other senior players.

Cook, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad have all proved their worth in England's current setup but Bell was quickly forgotten as Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow battered the South African attack to all parts.

Just as England's youth have stepped up following the sacking of Kevin Pietersen, they've done precisely the same when Bell was left out.

The recent revival in all forms of the game after an embarrassing 2015 World Cup has been based upon finally embracing an aggressive brand of cricket and when you think about the England team now, your mind goes straight to the innovation of Jos Buttler or the relentless consistency of Joe Root.

To pick Bell again now would be out of character for the England management who have been dedicated to giving England's youth a chance.

There are still some small seeds of hope for Bell however.

An unexpected route back

James Taylor had finally earned his opportunity in the test team during the tours of Pakistan and South Africa but his forced retirement due to a rare heart condition could give Bell an unexpected chance to get back into the middle order.

Bell won't get back in at number three as Nick Compton will surely be given the chance to perform for the seven tests of the summer but the age at which Compton was recalled should give Bell confidence for a recall.

At 32 years of age, Compton returned well in South Africa and, despite only averaging 30, provided extra grit alongside skipper Cook.

If Compton stays at three then Bell could be free to play how he likes at number five, possibly circumventing one of the biggest criticisms often levelled at him.

Many say that the five-time Ashes winner doesn't score runs when his team are in desperate need and there may be some truth to that. He averages 15 runs fewer in England's second innings and has never scored a hundred when batting in the fourth innings of a match.

Of course test match cricket is a complicated game and matches are not solely won or lost in the later innings but those stats are indicative of the sort of player you are dealing with.

Give him a license to play

He may not save you a test but his effortless stroke play could easily put you in a winning position and if any England coach is going to give him the freedom to do just that, it will be Trevor Bayliss.

Two other younger batsmen who have both had a reasonable amount of time with the squad will provide Bell with his most feasible competition.

Gary Ballance may have felt hard done by when he was axed during last years Ashes but he has scored all of his runs at three so may find it hard to sneak ahead of Bell at five, who has scored most of his tons at that position.

James Vince has only had a chance in the T20 so far but now captains Hampshire in all formats and led the run scorers in England Lions' unofficial ODI series against Pakistan A.

Each player will have three or four more County Championship games to amass enough runs to force the selectors' hand but England are in a strong position whereby whoever they pick will be comfortable in international cricket.

As always, it would be a pleasure to see Bell back in an England shirt: his cover drives give spectators a satisfaction that few other players can match but sadly Bell's aesthetically pleasing approach will not be enough to guarantee a place at Headingley in a month or so.

It would be sad to see the final remnant of the 2005 Ashes series go but in an evolving cricket environment, it may be the best thing to do.

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The Ashes
Joe Root
Ian Bell
Kevin Pietersen
England cricket

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