Martyn Corrin | 9:05pm gmt 27 Jul 2009
Ian Bell averages 25.10 against Australia. He comes into the England team in place of a man who averages 50.72 against the same side. Ian Bell is not best known for his ability to cope with pressure. The man he replaces thrives against the best opposition and plateaus when confronted with medicore opposition.
Yes, Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen are not, perhaps, all that alike. So you would think that Bell goes into Thursday's third Test feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders. But he might not, you know. Because, all things considered, there has never been a better time to be stepping in for Pietersen. And as far as Bell is concerned, there has never been a better time to come up against the Aussies.
Pietersen, of course, looked a shadow of himself at Lord's, and it was no great shock when he was ruled out for the rest of the series. This works in Bell's favour. Can you imagine if Pietersen had hit two centuries in the first two Tests, and then injured his achilles and got ruled out? Now that would be pressure that you'd imagine Bell would struggle with. Instead he comes in with England one up and with no real weight of expectation on him. And on top of that, Pietersen didn't look in form, he didn't look set to plunder the Australian bowlers to all parts of England. If Bell does his usual, get in-look good-get out routine, it won't really result in much difference in terms of output from what Pietersen has done in the series so far.
The previous occasion that we saw Bell return from being dropped was back in 2006, when he replaced Andrew Flintoff, so he's not exactly unaccustomed to stepping into the big guy's boots in the England team. That summer, he scored three centuries in three matches, albeit against distinctly average bowling. What's that you say? No, I dare not suggest such a thing!
Thursday will be Ian Bell's eleventh Ashes Test match, yet you would expect he feels more relaxed than he ever did in the previous ten. Aside from the aforementioned factors, there is no Shane Warne tormenting him with the ball, and with verbals. Though I did hear a cheeky mention of the nickname 'Sherminator' during the last Test! Expectation has never been lower for Bell, it seems most England fans are resigned to him doing very little, and Australians are somewhat optimstic about his apparently inevitable failure. This is a great opportunity for him, he would do well to take it.