x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Ian Bell's best in Ashes failed to register

On current form, England's Ian Bell should be in the ICC Team of the Year list on aesthetic value alone.

Last year, the committee who deal with the less serious items on the International Cricket Council's (ICC) agenda – namely selecting lists of cricketers of the year – issued a swift and sincere apology after overlooking Graeme Swann, the outstanding England spin bowler, for their annual awards.

It was an innocent oversight, and these things happen. Now we can only hope the same is going to happen after Ian Bell - wonderful, gorgeous Ian Bell - was omitted from the governing body's Test team of the Year (below), which was named last week.

Let's not over do it.

There are more serious issues at stake in the game, what with the spot-fixing furore still fresh in the mind, interest in the long-format dwindling and Pakistan apparently no closer to a return to home internationals.

Plus selecting teams like this at all is merely an invitation to whimsy, anyway.

But, all the same, this is a scandal of epic proportions.

Bell is purely magnificent. He should be the first name on the team sheet, especially on current form, on aesthetic value alone.

For much of his career, that was, of course, the stick he was beaten with: he is pretty, yet ultimately unfulfilling. But he has made a joke of that theory over the past year and a half.

Statistics rarely show the full picture, but when the picture is already a Rembrandt - as in Bell's case - the numbers should be able to add some depth at least.

Over the 12 months which the selection panel were asked to consider, Warwickshire's finest scored four tons and five half-centuries for England, at an average of 89.50.

In defence of their XI, the selectors reasoned that they had taken into consideration the context in which the runs were scored, the state of the matches and the relative merits of the opposition.

Bell scored his runs in an Ashes victory in Australia, which is, as English cricketers frequently comment, the most intense cricket they play, as well as against India, nominally the world's best team, and Sri Lanka.

What more does he need to do?

The perception is that England's march to the top of the Test game over the recent past has been built on the extraordinary hunger for runs of stodgy players like Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott.

Quite rightly, those two have been included in the ICC's Test XI side for the weight of runs they contributed to three successive series wins for England.

But Bell has been little less prolific in the same period and, while Cook and Trott are best watched via teletext or a desktop score ticker, he is a pleasure giver.

For his feats, the only mention he gets is in passing for this year's spirit of cricket award, after he went dawdling off for tea, and was run out by India's fielders in the second Test between the two sides at Trent Bridge in Nottingham.

That was is the midst of perhaps his most attractive century of all over the past year, which now seems to have become a mere addendum to MS Dhoni and India's act of magnanimity, rather than the other way round.

At least Bell has started his campaign to get in next year's team brightly.

His sparkling 235 against India at the Oval last week arrived just after the period under consideration had elapsed. Perhaps he will be noticed next time around.

Leaving aside subjective judgement calls like the omission of Bell, the plain facts of this ICC selection emphasise that the Test game is overwhelmingly dominated by two sides at present.

Only two of the 11 players are from sides other than South Africa and England, and they both carry with them a whiff of tokenism anyway.

Sachin Tendulkar gets the popular vote.

The Indian maestro is in for the third year running, despite being less than his, admittedly stratospheric, very best of late - and a little way below Bell's standards over the past year.

Just to add a hint of variety elsewhere, the selectors went for Kumar Sangakkara, the Sri Lankan batsman, among the non-Englishmen, South Africans, and South African-Englishmen in the team.

He was nominated as wicketkeeper and captain, even though he has been neither the wicketkeeper - Prasanna Jayawardene has the gloves in Tests - nor the captain, of his side recently.

By rights, they should have gone for the best wicketkeeper batsman in the Test game at the moment, which is, overwhelmingly England's Matt Prior.

The lack of genuine contenders from elsewhere around the world shows how little Test cricket has actually been played in a year mostly dominated by the World Cup, and by preparations for it.

England's rise to the top of the Test game in recent times has been ruthless in the confrontation with whimpering opposition.

As a result, their monopoly on the team of the year places is significant. If anything, it is two players light.

ICC XI

Alastair Cook (Eng)
Hashim Amla (SA)
Jonathan Trott (Eng)
Sachin Tendulkar (Ind)
Kumar Sangakkara (SL, w.k)
AB de Villiers (SA)
Jacques Kallis (SA)
Stuart Broad (Eng)
Graeme Swann (Eng)
Dale Steyn (SA)
James Anderson (Eng)
Zaheer Khan (Ind) (12th man)

pradley@thenational.ae


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