LONDON, (Reuters) – As a signal that England were no longer prepared to tolerate physical and mental flabbiness, Ian Bell was told to go away and toughen up after his side were bowled out for 51 by West Indies in February, 2009.
Two and a half years later, Bell is top of the year’s run scoring table with an average in excess of 100 and England are top of the world rankings after successive Ashes series wins and a 4-0 demolition of India.
“Physically I worked hard at my game, mentally I think I got a bit stronger,” Bell said yesterday after scoring 235 in England’s innings win over India in the fourth test.
Bell and England will now prepare for fresh challenges with three tests against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates in January followed by two tests in Sri Lanka in March.
Under the guidance of team director, the former Zimbabwe skipper Andy Flower, and captain Andrew Strauss there is no danger of any complacency seeping into a rigorously professional England structure.
“We are going to be judged by higher standards now. We need to keep pushing ourselves to improve and get better. We have got some very stern challenges ahead, in the subcontinent that’s an area of the world that we still need to improve in, it’s going to be a good challenge for us there,” Strauss told a news conference.
“Firstly winning away from home is always more difficult, we should be competitive in our conditions again anyone in the world. Away from home is harder, so we are going to have to challenge ourselves to improve away from home.
“And then it is about maintaining standards and maintaining improvements and being consistent. We have improved that a lot in the last 12 or 18 months, we need to improve that over the next year or so.”
The ascent from the ignominy of Kingston to the euphoria of the Oval over a team who arrived in England at the top of the world rankings was plotted by Strauss and Flower after the latter took charge of his adopted country following the series loss in West Indies.
“The greatest pitfall is feeling like you have done it all and therefore you are not willing to put in the hard work to continue it. I would be very disappointed if our side fell into that trap,” Strauss said.
England scored a mountain of runs against an manifestly inadequate attack after first Zaheer Khan and then Harbhajan Singh were injured.
The basis of their success was their bowlers’ ability to demoralise the most prolific batting order in test history who managed only three centuries, each to their supreme technician Rahul Dravid.
“I think if you look at lot of the sides we have played over the last couple of years some very good batsmen have struggled, I think a gradual erosion in their confidence and a gradual increase in our confidence has been the difference between the sides,” Strauss said.
“Big victories have come on top of outstanding bowling performances. It’s very different out there, the heat and the humidity and all that sort of stuff and we have to keep improving our skills both in how we are looking to take wickets but also our ability to bat for very long periods.”