Ian Bell: Warwickshire captain refreshed and still eyeing England future

Ian Bell
Ian Bell has not batted for England since making a sixth-ball duck in the second innings against Pakistan in Sharjah in November 2015

Warwickshire captain Ian Bell says his hunger to return to England's Test team has been refuelled in the 12 months since he last represented his country.

Bell, 34, was jettisoned following the 2-0 series loss to Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, two months after being part of an Ashes-winning side.

"I did question whether I wanted to carry on doing it," he told BBC Sport.

"At the end of the Ashes, there's no doubt I got in a place where, mentally and physically, I was shattered."

Ahead of December's trip to Australia to play for Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash, Bell says he has not given up hope of playing for his country again.

His Warwickshire form in 2016 was comparatively poor to previous seasons - he averaged 33.47 in first-class cricket - but it was also his first season as county captain.

Bell said it was now clear that perhaps all he needed was a break from Test cricket.

"Coming out of that and being a bit fresher now, I know I do want to carry on," he added. "Sometimes you need to take a step back to understand what you love about it.

"I've had a nice break from the bubble of international cricket. Having come out of that bubble, I've realised how much I want to get back in."

The brutality of Test cricket

Jonathan Trott
Jonathan Trott left the 2013-14 Ashes tour after the first Test in Brisbane, and he retired from Test cricket following his recall for the West Indies tour in 2015

Almost no sooner than he had peaked with his man-of-the-series performance against Australia in 2013, when he hit three centuries, Bell was made to face the reality of the pressures of international cricket.

Facing the Australians again so soon on their own soil, against a fired-up Mitchell Johnson, England's batsmen struggled and lost the series 5-0.

Bell's Warwickshire and England team-mate Jonathan Trott left the tour early because of a stress-related condition.

"In that environment, as we've seen, it's brutal," said Bell. "You have to be mentally and physically on top of your game to be a good Test player.

"But I still think I've got some cricket left. I have no doubts about myself physically and, if I can play well at the start of the year, my goal is to get back in that England team.

"There's a tour to Australia coming up next winter. Obviously, I want to be back in that England team. I'd jump at the chance.

"Even though the Big Bash is a different format, playing this winter for Perth is still an opportunity to show people what I can do on the big stage."

If you're good enough, you're young enough

Brian Close
Brian Close, at the age of 45, ducks away from a Michael Holding bouncer at Old Trafford in 1976

The history of English cricket can evoke plenty of memories of old stagers doing heroic deeds for their country.

A helmetless 45-year-old Brian Close bobbing and weaving at the other end from 39-year-old John Edrich against a West Indies pace attack of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Wayne Daniel in the Old Trafford gloom in July 1976 remains top of the list.

Colin Cowdrey and Fred Titmus both being recalled at the age of 42 to face Denis Lillee and Jeff Thomson in full flow on the Ashes tour of 1974-75 is not far behind.

England's batting order has, at one time or another, contained some 52 players over the age of 40 - the oldest of them being Wilfred Rhodes at the age of 53 in April 1930.

Bell, by way of contrast, is still only 34.

Hameed 'looks like a Test cricketer'

Haseeb Hameed
Lancashire opener Haseeb Hameed has scored 31, 83, 13 and 25 in his four Test innings for England in India

England have played 15 Test matches since Bell was axed for the four-match series in South Africa in 2015-16.

Since then, other than the improved form of Jonny Bairstow and some good efforts down the order from Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali, England have failed to find a satisfactory long-term replacement for Bell.

Their current struggles in India have at least been tempered by the confident start by teenage opener Haseeb Hameed in Test cricket.

Although wary of there being too much responsibility being placed on Hameed's young shoulders, Bell, who made his Test debut at 22, has been impressed with the form of the 19-year-old Lancashire batsman.

"He looks like a Test cricketer," Bell, who has played 118 Tests for England, told BBC WM. "He's more of an old school player than your modern breed - very well organised. You need this type of cricketer, who can get in his bubble and bat through long periods.

"But I feel for him as I don't want everyone to suddenly pin all their hopes on a 19-year-old.

"Having been through that process as a young England batsman myself, I know he's going to learn a lot along the way. He's going to fail sometimes and he's going to have some good days.

"We've got to stick with him and allow him to build his career in that environment. I hope they give him a run and that he can stay there for a long period of time.

"You have to remember that India are very good at home. It's a tough tour when you go to the sub-continent. It's not the easiest tour, even for experienced teams. We've seen Australia lose there and South Africa recently."

Ian Bell was talking to BBC Sport's Ged Scott and Richard Wilford.

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