Ian Bell admits that England’s players must “take responsibility” for their winter of discontent and start building a new era in earnest when the international season starts against Scotland tomorrow.
The unlikely setting of Aberdeen’s Mannofield ground way up in the north will provide the venue for the launch of the natonal team’s second Peter Moores era with a 50-over game against the Scots.
Bell, along with Warwickshire team-mate Chris Woakes, will be there in the Granite City – and both men hope to be at the heart of the national team for years to come.
And he admits that England owe their fans a serious improvement after a winter of deep discontent and under-achievement, first in the Ashes series in Australia and then in the T20 World Cup in Bangladesh.
“It’s a huge summer for us and there is no doubt we have to take responsibility for the winter,” Bell said. “It was not acceptable.
“From winning the Ashes last summer with everyone on a high, to go to Australia where we were never close, it was poor.
“When you go out to Australia you know you have to play to the highest level you can, both individually and as a team. In the past we have done that but this time we were way below where we’d expect to be. Against a team like Australia if you are not playing well as a group you are going to get absolutely hammered – and that’s what happened.”
Since making his Test debut in 2004 Bell has experienced the full gamut of emotions – from bagging a pair to playing match-winning innings and from emphatically winning the Ashes to emphatically losing them.
Now English cricket awaits to see where Moores’ second coming as England coach takes the team. And, despite the depths hit during the last six months, Bell reckons the recovery from an Ashes whitewash can be rapid.
“It is not acceptable to lose 5-0 but I am sure a lot of players will be tougher players from that and will learn some lessons and will become better players for it,” he said.
“Hopefully this England team can now regroup with some new faces and go forward. My experiences tell me that could happen. In 2006/07 we lost 5-0 in Australia and after that we had five or six years of some of the best years in English cricket.
“It is possible to get back to some good times and hopefully I can be a senior player and help get us back to where we want to be.”
While Bell is a long-established pillar of England’s team, Woakes is striving to establish himself in the Test team having so far played just one Test, the last one against Australia last summer.
He then suffered the disappointment of being left out of the Ashes tour but received a welcome fillip in the spring when asked to captain England Lions in Sri Lanka.
In his first stab at skippering in senior cricket, Woakes earned high praise for leading the Lions to victory in a notoriously difficult place to tour.
“I was surprised to be asked to be captain,” he said. “But it was nice. It gave me a bit of confidence having missed out on the Ashes tour which was disappointing. When something like that happens you think you might have moved down the pecking order, so to get asked to captain a Lions tour with a team with people like Johnny Bairstow and James Taylor, was encouraging.
“I had never really thought about captaincy before. I did a bit as a youngster in the age-groups but not much for Warwickshire, more at club level for Aston Manor and Walmley. I was a little bit nervous having not done it before but I think it went reasonably well.
“It was good to look at the game in a different way especially in different conditions in Sri Lanka which we are not used to as English players. It went well and I enjoyed it.
“I know and get on with most of the lads who were out there so it was a good group to lead. To be a leader of a group of men in tough conditions was a good challenge and I think I came through it okay. It’s good to have it on my CV.
“There were a couple of sessions which didn’t go our way and, when that happens, you have to let the lads know it is unacceptable. But I wasn’t handing out any severe rollickings. I am a pretty chilled-out guy – and I had a decent tour myself so that helped.”
Woakes could play a significant role for the national teams in the coming years. But he knows that won’t happen unless he produces runs and wickets for the Bears. Like Bell, he is a product not just of Edgbaston but of county cricket in general and loves that environment and performing for the Bears – but he has no immediate aspirations to captain them. He is very content to stay in the ranks for now!
“Captaincy is a huge job, particularly in county cricket with the gruelling schedule,” he said. “It’s chaos at times. You play a lot of cricket and, for the captain, it’s not just all the stuff on the park. There are a lot of obligations off the field that people don’t know about.
“It’s not something I’ll be putting my hand up for any time soon, but I might look at it differently later in my career. In the meantime, I just want to improve as a cricketer and I think captaining the guys in Sri Lanka helped. Over the last couple of years, having moved up the batting order to six, I am trying to fulfil the genuine all-rounder slot.
“The captaincy made me think about other parts of the game beyond my own performance.
“That takes your mind of just yourself and I quite enjoyed that side of it. But it was also nice to know it was just a five-week tour.”