Image courtesy of: Zimbio
In an exclusive interview with me, England and Warwickshire batsman Ian Bell shares his thoughts on next year’s Ashes series, gearing up for his first appearance in the Big Bash League (BBL) and the future of Hong Kong cricket. The Ashes hero was also put in the hot seat with a number of quickfire questions!
BM: What are your thoughts about the Ashes series next year? Can England beat Australia in their backyard or will it be difficult for them to retain the urn?
IB: I think going to Australia is a real tough tour. There’s absolutely no doubt about it, it’s a tough place to go. Australia’s record generally is outstanding, but I think it’s going to be really close. I think Australia are hurting at the minute, they’ve obviously lost to South Africa, which again, knowing Australian teams, they will come back strong from that. They won’t just feel sorry for themselves, they’ll be working hard to come back and show people that they are one of the best teams in the world.
I think England are nicely balanced. If we can keep our two senior bowlers (James Anderson and Stuart Broad) fit and they’re fresh and ready to go in Australia, then I think we have got a real chance. But, I think it’s going to be tighter than what people are saying at the minute. I think it will be a really good series, probably the tightest one we have had in Australia for a while.
Both teams will be desperate to win and they will probably now be building a side that they think will win the Ashes this time next year. Not to say the next few series won’t be important, but there is going to be one eye on what that squad will be looking like for next winter in the Ashes. I think both teams will win a couple of games and I think it will come down to one game.
BM: What is the favourite Ashes moment of your career?
IB: Winning the Ashes for an Englishman is the best thing you can do in cricket, I think it really is. The most amazing feeling, I think there are two for me. Growing up, I wanted to play 100 Test matches for England and I wanted to be Man of the Series in an Ashes series.
In my generation, we all grew up watching the Ian Botham Ashes and how he sort of won the series and to achieve that in 2013 and to be Man of the Series was obviously a dream for me individually, but I think the best achievement was winning it in Australia. Again, like winning in India, they are the two hardest places to go to and win.
So, to win an Ashes in Australia and to sit there in a group that was very close in Sydney in the dressing room afterwards, was the best feeling I have ever had in cricket really.
BM: You will be playing in the BBL for the first time this year, how excited are you to be featuring in this major T20 tournament?
IB: This is the first window I have had to play in the BBL, so when Justin Langer gave me a call, it was an easy answer to come over and be part of a real special tournament. But, also playing under Justin Langer was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss.
BM: You spent a part of your early career playing in Perth, what’s it like going back to the city?
IB: If you were to ask me which team I’d pick to play for, it would have been the Perth Scorchers, purely for that reason. I think that in 2003/04 John Inverarity at the time was the Warwickshire coach and lived in Perth and got me to play for the University of Western Australia and it really was the start of my international career.
I went over there, worked with some really good people and learnt not just a lot about my cricket, but about myself. And just getting out of that England academy comfort zone was [highly beneficial]. When I came back to Warwickshire, I had the best year of my career and then ended up making my Test debut at the end of that summer.
So, there are a lot of people I owe a lot of thanks to that I worked with in Perth to get me to that point and then, I suppose, it’s nice twelve years later to go back and be playing for the Perth Scorchers. It’s a bit of a dream come true really. It’s a place that I wanted to go back to if I had the opportunity.
BM: You, Mitchell Johnson and Justin Langer were once foes on the cricket field. How does it feel to be playing alongside Johnson and being coached by Langer?Image courtesy of: Zimbio
IB: It feels really good. It’s going to be exciting as I’m going to learn some new things, getting things from a different angle, certainly, like I said, to be in an Australian cricket dressing room and see how things operate is really interesting.
Like you said, there is obviously a lot of [history]. England versus Australia is a huge rivalry, and both teams give it absolutely everything, but again, as soon as that finished, both of the teams have a lot of respect for each other and would actually get on really well. I think the fact you put on two different shirts, it means a lot to both teams, but you take those away then I think we have a lot of things in common.
I’m looking forward to, like I said, being involved in something a little bit different and getting out of English cricket and experiencing something from a completely different perspective.
BM: How much have you heard about Hong Kong cricket?
IB: Well, I always grew up watching the Hong Kong Sixes on TV. Actually, it’s a tournament I really wanted to play in. Obviously, I’ve played against Hong Kong and I’ve got friends who live out there now, who obviously have a massive interest in the game.
I know there is a massive T20 tournament (Hong Kong T20 Blitz) which has started and that is great. I’ve spoken to Woodworm businessman Simon Millington about how passionate people are about cricket over there. At some point, I’d like to come and have a look at that and obviously play in the T20 Blitz.
BM: What do you think Hong Kong have to do to take that next step in world cricket?
Image taken by: Bimal Mirwani
IB: It’s difficult isn’t it. As you said, they’re one of the best Associate nations. It’s just about dominating that and winning consistently. I think it’s difficult to know from the outside. Breaking into that top level is going to be hard, but it all starts from the next generation of kids being inspired to play cricket and the coaches that can drive that next generation. Hong Kong are doing very well in that respect as kids want to play for Hong Kong and take it even further.
We have got a lot of guys that play for Warwickshire who also play for Ireland that are trying so hard to take that next step as well, and we know how hard they work. It’s not an easy step, but then again, that next generation, you want to hope that they want to take it the next step further.
BM: England are currently embroiled in a tough tour of India, what has been their strengths and weaknesses thus far?
IB: I mean for any team, in particular England, the subcontinent has always been a particularly hard place to go to. But, I think it’s great to see a couple of young players that have come out and shown that they have got the ability to go forward.
[In regards to] our batting, I think generally over a period of time, over the last 18 months, our all-rounders in Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow and the rest of that lower middle order looks really strong.
Obviously, probably the area in which we have been short is playing three spinners. It’s sort of left us a little bit behind where India are. But again, looking at that, Adil Rashid looks like he is growing in confidence every game. I think Moeen is still our number one spinner, but maybe our third spinning option hasn’t been as strong as what India have.
BM: Many people feel that you should have been selected for the tour of India given your experience and ability to play spin bowling. What advice would you give to the national team?
IB: The last time we went to India was when we won a series out there in 2012 and I think to win a series in the subcontinent, your batters need to score big, big, big runs. [England captain] Alastair Cook broke all the records last time, but through the batsmen there were a lot of runs.
The first innings is crucial, you have to get four hundred to five hundred runs on the board and that’s the sort of thing that guarantees you winning the game. Probably in these last Test matches we’ve seen a lot of people get starts, they’ve got in, but never quite went on and got that big score. If somebody gets a big score, you have got a chance.
If you don’t get four hundred in the first innings, then you’re nearly put yourself a bridge behind in the game. Those guys know that, they’ve got some really quality players, some guys who have been through it all and they know what they’re trying to do. That’s the thing with the subcontinent, everyone knows what they want to do, but it’s not that easy to do that. Just to go out and do that takes a lot of skill, a lot of concentration.
The guys know what they need to do and they’ll be talking about that and putting that in place the next game.
BM: Saqlain Mushtaq has offered to be England’s full-time spin-bowling coach, do you think the national team are in need of one?
Image courtesy of: Zimbio
IB: I think so. Certainly when you are in the subcontinent, [spin bowling] is just a unique part of the game. You’ve got bowling coaches to understand the psyche and exactly what it takes to bowl spin at that level. You need you’re individual coaches to talk to and have a relationship with those guys.
Saqlain is a world-class bowler, he knows how to bowl in the subcontinent and he can help, there’s no doubt he can help Adil Rashid, Moeen Ali, Zafar Ansari and all our young spinners as well. Coaching at that level is not about the technical stuff, it’s about game management and understanding what you need to achieve in the first innings, how you are going to go about tactically in the second innings. I think he would have a massive volume of experience and add some real value to that England team.
BM: What are your thoughts on the Mintgate/Lollygate incident? Are the rules about shining the ball clear or is it something the ICC need to address?
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IB: There’s no doubt there are a lot of fine lines, so yeah I imagine going forward now, the ICC need to address it really. There’s no doubt. There are a lot of grey areas around that, and it won’t be the first time that that’s been used so the ICC do really need to make a statement on how it’s going to be going forward and make sure everything is really clear. As long as everyone’s clear on what’s going on, then I think everyone will be happy.
BM: Finest England player you played with?
IB: Kevin Pietersen
BM: Who was the real mirror magnet?
IB: Jonathan Trott
BM: The one superpower you would like to have?
IB: To be invisible.
BM: Night out with the lads or quiet night in with the missus?
IB: Quiet night with the missus, I’m going to have to, you have put me in a hell of a position there.
BM: The one moment of your career that will stay with you forever?
IB: Winning the Ashes in Australia in 2010/11.
BM: You haven’t been to Hong Kong before, but what have you heard about the city and what sights would you like to see?
IB: From what I hear, the nightlife is pretty good, so that would be quite interesting.
BM: Who is the toughest bowler you ever faced?
IB: I get asked this a lot. I think it’s a mixture. In Test cricket, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath as the pressure from both ends was always extreme. [Even if] the pitch was turning, McGrath would put the ball in a lot of good areas and bowl a lot of maidens and Warne would attack and vice versa. Muttiah Muralitharan in Sri Lanka was incredibly hard as well.
BM: The best cricketer you played against?
IB: I would have to say Ricky Ponting. As a leader and as a batter, he played some of the best knocks I have seen against us in the Ashes series. Sachin Tendulkar was the other. You watch them when they’re playing and how the ground changes when they come out to bat.
BM: Three things you couldn’t live without in life?
IB: My kids, my missus and my iPhone.
BM: It is known that you are a big Aston Villa fan. Looking back, would you have rather played cricket for England or played football for Aston Villa?
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IB: I’d rather have played cricket for England and played 100 Tests, but I’d happily give one of my Test matches back if I could score a goal for Aston Villa. One goal at Villa Park would have certainly been worth giving a Test match or a hundred back.