The Ashes 2013: Five Times England's Ian Bell Has 'Come of Age'
Is Ian Bell the batsman England can rely on to score big runs? Is he the player who can be trusted to bat his team-mates out of trouble when the chips are down?
Bell has been on the England team since 2004, feted as one of the most naturally talented players of his generation and destined to play for his country from a young age.
Now, the best part of a decade and more than 6,000 Test runs later, Bell still divides opinion.
His centuries in the first two Tests prompted more talk that he had "come of age," but after another reckless shot with his team collapsing, those doubts have recurred.
Perhaps England just have to accept Bell for what he is: a supremely gifted player capable of scoring runs in any situation but also prone to throwing away starts. He is a player as capable of the sublime as he is the occasional moment of ridiculousness.
Here, we take a quick look at five times Bell's coming of age in the international arena has been proclaimed, and five times that wasn't quite the case.
2006/07: Ian Bell Comes of Age
To quote The Guardian in November 2006:
The overall average - 47.66 - is excellent, but it has been a journey of soaring highs and crushing lows: a scorching start, with an average of 297 after three Tests, then his Ashes failure, then an apparent coming-of-age in Pakistan, followed by an underwhelming tour of India that led to him being dropped.
Bell's career did swing wildly from high to low and back in the early months. But having found a way back into the team batting at No. 6—and scoring three centuries from that position in three Tests against Pakistan in 2006—it was felt that Bell had matured.
He was promoted to No. 3 off the back of that summer for the Ashes Down Under.
2008: "Boyish Bell Ready to Come of Age at Last"
To quote from the story by Paul Newman as headlined above in The Daily Mail:
Shane Warne might like to know that Ian Bell no longer wants to be thought of as a promising youngster. The man Warne rather unkindly dubbed 'the Sherminator' during the last Ashes series after a geeky character from the film American Pie has embarked on a quest for cricketing maturity.
Bell's career had shown signs of fulfillment but also numerous what-might-have-beens. From the 2006/07 Ashes until the start of the 2008 summer, Bell had just two of 13 scores above 50 into centuries.
2008-2009: Bell Comes of Age Against South Africa...Twice
To quote news website Quqster, "Bell’s coming of age began on the tour of South Africa in 2009-10, where his century in Durban spearheaded one of England’s finest away victories."
It must have been a bit of a surprise to him, as he'd reportedly already played his career-defining innings the previous summer, as reported in The Guardian at the time:
The career-defining knock is one of cricket's great cliches but few were arguing last night when Ian Bell deemed his 199 to be his "best innings for England so far". While others have wrung their hands over his apparent preference for style over substance, Bell was honest enough to accept the criticism.
2010/11: Bell Comes of Age for Ashes
To quote the Daily Express on Ian Bell's progress:
At 28, Bell has come of age as he approaches what will be his fourth Ashes campaign. He readily accepts that his first in 2005 came too early and he was found out by Glenn McGrath. His second in 2006-07 floundered in the whitewash and his third in 2009 only started after the second Test as a replacement for the injured Pietersen.
This was perhaps the easiest time in Bell's career to draw the conclusion—he had scored mountains of runs at home, then had a solid and victorious Ashes series in Australia and backed it up with another bucketful of scores as England whitewashed India in 2011.
But then a lean spell followed, where suddenly, but not for the first time, people called Ian Bell's place in the team into question once more.
In fact, had he not been on his way home for the birth of his child during the 2012/13 tour of India, he might have found himself dropped in any case.
2013: Bell Comes of Age in the Ashes, Again
Ian Bell might have been a man lacking form going into the Ashes, but he more than made up for it with a rip-roaring start to the 2013 series. Come his century at Lord's, the headline writers were at it again, as this headline from The Independent shows.
But as Bell played a reckless shot in the first innings at Durham to leave England 155-5, it will have felt all too familiar to England fans. When it comes to Ian Bell they've witnessed, as Australian journalist Jarrod Kimber put it, "more coming of age moments than Kevin Arnold did in The Wonder Years."
What comes next—be it success or failure—is up to Bell.
But it would probably be sensible to expect both.