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Ian Bell - Cricket: Ian Bell on Zak Crawley, England v South Africa and The Hundred

Ian Bell gives his thoughts exclusively to bet365 about Zak Crawley's struggles, England's second Test against South Africa, and the Hundred.

The opening partnership is a concern. In the coaching world, and thinking as a player, what I’ve really enjoyed about this England side this summer is the consistency in selection.

In the last 12-18 months, there has been a lot of rotation and we’ve rarely played the same XI, and I look back at the best teams I’ve played with, and you build momentum by having consistency in selection, players getting used to their roles, not chopping and changing.

But there’s a good debate about this opening partnership, particularly Zak Crawley. You can see there’s a lot to like about the way he plays, and his ceiling looks high in ability, but unfortunately he’s not backing that up with the volume of runs.

There’s been a lot of talk about match-winning performances or consistency, but if I was in the selectors’ shoes, I’d want my two opening batters consistently getting through the new ball, not looking at match-winning performances.

We’ve got match-winners throughout the side. We all like Zak Crawley when he’s on form, but I think what you want from an opening partnership isn’t necessarily for them to be the flair players of the side, but they can be the most valuable.

I do like the consistency in selection, but to contradict myself, I’d take him out of the firing line. Deep down, I don’t care how tough and resilient you are, if you’re averaging 24 and everyone’s talking about you, that’s not an easy place. In your hotel room, you’re asking massive questions about yourself.

It’s great having the backing of the coach, but he can’t have any confidence. As a player, the worst part of being dropped is the leading into it. I actually think for him it’d be a massive relief to step out of the firing line, go back to Kent, work on his game, come back again a stronger player and get back in.

The worry is the longer you keep going, does that second opportunity come around if it gets worse and worse and worse? We all want Zak Crawley to be a Test match player, but how long do you go on?

He has a high ceiling and a lot to like from a coaching point of view, but what message does it send to the other openers in county cricket? Are they going to get the same run in the team?

We’re talking 25+ Test matches now. If someone else gets five Test matches and they’re gone, they’re going to be wondering why. You’re setting a precedent that everyone’s going to get a long, long, long run in the team.

Hot-shot Potts

More positively, I’m looking forward to seeing Ollie Robinson back. I saw him bowling from the sidelines at Lord’s, and he got a five-fer in the warm-up game against South Africa, which is a different kettle of fish, but his numbers do stack up. He’s had to adjust a few things, having had a bit of criticism inside and outside the camp.

Talking about consistency in the side, Matthew Potts has been a revelation, he’s come from nowhere, I don’t think anyone’s expected him to have the impact he’s had, but it’s not a bad decision to get a fresh bowler in, and give him a week to reset and look at what he’s learnt over his short international career, and I think he’ll play a lot more cricket and will have a big part to play in the rest of the series.

It was obviously disappointing to lose but I thought the first Test was a really good Test match, with England coming off the massive high of three wins against New Zealand and the win against India.

South Africa won an amazing toss; I was there on day one and it had that perfect humidity, stormy clouds above and it did enough, but South Africa throughout the Test executed much better with ball and bat than England did.

Fair play to South Africa; before the series, their bowling looked a threat, but I questioned whether their batting would stack up in English conditions, but you have to give them credit.

Old Trafford is a slightly different type of surface. Lord’s can have a bit of a green tinge and the ball can do a bit. Old Trafford can be a harder surface, quite attritional, spin can play a part, and bowlers have to hit the pitch extremely hard, and you don’t necessarily get as much swing.

The next generation

Being an assistant coach for Birmingham Phoenix it’s good to see young players come in and do well. Will Smeed got an amazing 100 on a big stage at Edgbaston, and we saw Henry Brookes get a really good five-fer, and while everything went his way that day, even the games he hasn’t got wickets, he’s been pretty consistent.

And if you look at who we would’ve had, we’d have had Adam Milne from New Zealand, Chris Woakes and Ollie Stone, and they’ve all been out injured, and the fact Henry has stood up has been a real credit to him.

That’s what’s great about this tournament; when you lose the big international players, the younger players get the chance to step in, and if I was in the England selectors, while we’ve got the T20 World Cup and the 50-over World Cup next year, that may be the end of the cycle, and we may see the likes of Will Smeed, Henry Brookes and the next cycle of players who’ll build white ball teams for years to come.

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