Beginning-of-the-end

Before his sudden retirement, Ian Bell last played a One-Day International (ODI) for England in ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. He last scored a century in the 50-over format in January this year in the Carlton Mid Triangular Series in Australia also involving India. The innings of 141 at Bellerive Oval against Australia was more of a desperate career-saving effort than a commanding knock a middle-order batsman would usually dish out. During the tournament Bell also went past Paul Collingwood to become England’s leading ODI run-getter. As he retires with 5,416 runs, Eoin Morgan and Alastair Cook remain the only contemporary Englishmen with over 3,000 ODI runs. Ian Bell retires from ODIs: Top five memorable knocks

That effort at Bellerive was after two years that Bell had got to triple figures in ODI cricket. Bell was aging. He wasn’t getting any better. England still persisted with him for the No. 3 spot. Bell came into World Cup 2015 with promises of runs. The ‘promise package’ also included composure and solidity he usually provides England in Tests. England were lured. They decided to send in a batsman with a strike rate of 77 and an average close to 38 to get runs in a tournament where teams were crossing 300-run mark with astounding ease. Ian Bell retires from ODIs to prolong career in Tests

England’s theories were outdated. Bell was outdated. England were humiliated. They were knocked out of contention in the first bout. England and Bell flew back home embarrassed. Bell has not played ODI cricket since. Neither have England. They are, after all, ‘New England’ these days. Ian Bell: I have hunger and desire to continue Test cricket

At 33, Bell wasn’t getting better. He had managed to keep the critics away with three half-centuries in World Cup 2015, but it is better not to consider that as a base for him to fight for a spot in the ODIs. England have been doing well in Tests. The results of this summer bear testimony to that. But the fact they did not know how the other formats should be played (till ‘New England’ came into being) was a question so big, they needed more than a Bell to answer that. Andrew Strauss urges Ian Bell to continue his Test career with England

But is 33 the right age to walk away? Perhaps yes, if you are not a Kumar Sangakkara. The sport has been changing rapidly. Older men are finding it tough to survive against the exuberance of youth. Bell has managed to linger around for quite a while now: the “three-half-centuries-package” in World Cup 2015 and Ashes 2015 have helped him secure a spot. And then, there are promises being made of a desire to ‘prolong the Test career’. Ian Bell, Michael Clarke, and others with most Ashes wins, defeats, and more

If it is not time for Bell to walk away from cricket, he can at least not leave some pertinent questions unanswered. Graham Gooch had trained him and a few select others the art of making ‘daddy hundreds’. Bell was going absolutely fine till Australia cracked the way of stopping him. The trademark ‘late-cuts’ were blocked by Australia. Somewhere down the lane, Bell forgot how to make runs. He showed glimpse of form with 167 against India at Southampton in 2014 and a sublime 143 against West Indies before the home summer began, but that was it.

Little did Bell know he would be christened ‘Binary Bell’ following a sequence of 11, 1, 0, 0, 1, 29, 12, 1 and 1 in 10 innings in the build-up to The Ashes. It was only a matter of luck that Bell was able to get rid of the evil spell with a crucial 60 at Cardiff, but then, he undid all the hard work with two poor strokes at Lord’s in perfect batting conditions.

England’s belief has never flinched as far as Bell is concerned. To be fair, Bell has tried his best to live up to the expectations. The promotion to No. 3 in third Ashes 2015 Test was responded with a fifty, but came to an end when he decided to loft one and ended up hitting high in the air one-handed.

It will not be an exaggeration to say Bell has rapidly lost his shine. He does not look the mean run-machine that he used to at the beginning of this decade. He has scored in the toughest of conditions in Australia and India. But post Ashes 2013, he has just been another batsman.

Bell is not wrong it calling it a day in ODIs. He wants to prolong his Test career, but the decision has to be backed up by numbers. He may not be feeling ‘ready to call time on England career’, but then, even Michael Clarke did not feel the same that night in Melbourne when he decided to call his ODI career off and prolong the one in the longest format.

We all know what happened. Clarke got fed up and walked away. England and Bell will pray it does not happen to one of their star batsmen. No one knows what future holds for Bell, but this is surely the beginning of the end.

(Devarchit Varma is a reporter with CricketCountry. He can be followed on Twitter @Devarchit)