There is little doubt that Ian Bell who announced his retirement on Saturday is a modern England batting great. For over a decade he was a tower of strength to the middle order and was an integral part of a star-studded line-up that started with Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook and continued with Kevin Pietersen. In their own diverse ways, they played a notable part in England’s rather impressive showing during a period in which the team rose to the No 1 spot in the ICC Test rankings.

While Cook and Strauss provided the solidity and Pietersen the flamboyance Bell was the stylist. Few England batsmen in living memory have combined style and substance like Bell did. His cover driving was a picture postcard joy, elegance personified. But no less charming were his off drive and square drive. This is not to say that Bell could not play the other strokes but when he did they also were straight out of the textbook. The substance he provided is there in the stats. His tally of 7727 runs puts him in the top ten of England run-getters. His 22 hundreds puts him alongside Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey, Geoff Boycott, and Kevin Pietersen and puts him joint-third behind Cook and Pietersen. He could also get big hundreds as one double century and four other scores more than 150 plus underscores. One particular fact will please Bell in particular for he was the one who performed best on the big stage. He is only one among three to take part in five victorious Ashes campaigns.

Despite this impressive record Bell has this image of an underachiever. But this is because of his innate modesty. Never flamboyant in his batting style or in his approach to the game he carried England’s hopes methodically, frequently playing the rescue act in a crisis situation. He was also one of the few really well-behaved cricketers at a time when player behavior touched an all-time low. This is reflected in his polite retirement statement wherein he states quite honestly “It’s true when they say you know when the time is right and my time is now. While my hunger and enthusiasm for the sport I love remain as strong as ever my body simply can’t keep up with the demands of the game to the standard of which I expect myself.’’

Very typical of a man who maintained high standards both in batting and in behavior, the Warwickshire stalwart also said he “couldn’t disrespect the club I love by being unable to play to the level they deserve.’’

Despite his adherence to the textbook Bell had this happy knack of adapting to the situation and it is really no surprise that he is third in the list of England run-getters in ODIs after Eoin Morgan and Joe Root. The overall image of Ian Bell will however be the aesthetic skills he displayed in Test match cricket.

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