Ian Bell believes the only way to keep his place in the “brutal environment” of Test cricket is to enjoy the challenge – even in extreme adversity.
England have responded to their embarrassing 405-run defeat in the second Ashes Test at Lord’s, and Bell’s miserable run of form, by promoting him centre stage to bat at No 3 on his home ground.
Bell’s wretched sequence of scores in his last 12 innings – since his century in Antigua three months ago – features a solitary 50, two ducks and five times dismissed for just a single.
The 33-year-old is, however, a four-time Ashes winner with 22 Test centuries to his name and it is that pedigree which new coach Trevor Bayliss and the selectors have backed to come good when they need him most at Edgbaston this week.
Bell’s performance here has an added premium because there is a largely misfiring top order around him while England have put their faith in a recall for in-form Jonny Bairstow at No 5 after dropping his fellow Yorkshire batsman, Gary Ballance.
With the series level at 1-1, the stakes could hardly be much higher for all concerned, and Bell knows he must not be intimidated by the Australia attack which bowled England out for 103 in 37 overs just eight days ago.
He told BBC Sport: “It’s a brutal environment – you have to perform. I know I haven’t performed to the best of my ability in the last two months.”
However, he is confident he will be best served by embracing the occasion and the impact he can have.
“It’s a good opportunity to take some responsibility and score some runs. The only thing I can do really is focus on what’s in hand, a home Test match.
“It’s always great fun. I know the ground inside out – I’ve got to enjoy myself.”
Joe Root has been prolific for much of the past 12 months in the middle order and, even after a rare lack of productivity at Lord’s, he is up to fourth in the line-up from his accustomed five.
With Bell’s help, he is adamant England can buck this year’s worrying trend of top-order collapses.
“I think every international player is playing for their place at all times,” said Root. “Ian’s record is fantastic, and he’s playing at his home ground. Last time the Ashes were in England he was outstanding, and I’m sure he will want to put a marker down and return to form.”
Root agrees with Bell, too, in keeping with England’s prevailing mood of attacking intent this summer, that this is no time to go on the retreat.
“The top order just have to go out and play their own game,” he added. “It’s not gone to plan so far.
“But we’ve got some really talented players out there… it’s about making sure we do everything we can to build big partnerships and put them back under pressure.
“We know how we felt at Lord’s, and we want to put that back on Australia.”
Root, like his captain, Alastair Cook, when he spoke after last week’s embarrassing setback, is at a loss to explain the patchy form with which England have followed their three Test victories against West Indies, New Zealand and Australia this year by losing at the next attempt
“It’s hard to put my finger on it,” he said. “We’re just not as consistent as we’d like to be. It’s not through lack of effort.
“We’ve got a few young players finding their feet, and it will come with time.”
He is not worried that the crushing margin of defeat last time will damage morale, adding: “Throughout this summer, we’ve always come back from heavy defeats well.
“There’s so much confidence in the camp, and we’ll be looking to put them back on the back foot on Wednesday.”
Bell has to be optimistic, too, but can hardly deny he needs to put things right quickly to ensure he extends his 112-Test career.
He told Sky Sports News: “I’m realistic. I know I haven’t performed in certainly the last six weeks to the level I expect an England player to perform.
“It’s an important Test match, no doubt.
“But I still believe that when I’m playing at my best, I’m a world-class player, and I’m desperate for the runs that come with being a top-order England batsman.”