Cricket Expert & Columnist
Ian Bell must cash in for England if he gets the chance in this week's ODI series, says Mike Atherton.
Last Updated: 07/07/10 1:35pm
The upcoming NatWest Series against Bangladesh offers England the ideal opportunity to rediscover the winning knack.
That may sound odd given their recent 3-2 victory over Australia but the fact is they were well beaten in the final two games, at the Oval and Lord's, so there is plenty to work on.
England regarded the beginning of that series as the start proper of their 2011 World Cup preparations and, as such, they didn't want to waste a game.
Those defeats highlighted that every match from here on in represents a chance to improve - and that must be the case whether England are up against Australia, Pakistan or Bangladesh.
The next three one-day internationals, starting with Thursday's match at Trent Bridge, are not only about consolidating the progress England have made in 50-over cricket over the last 18 months but they also offer certain squad members an opportunity to press their claims.
None will be keener to do so than Ian Bell who, with Kevin Pietersen injured, will presumably win his 80th ODI cap in Nottingham. It's a chance he has to take because, given the current competition for batting places, he may not get another.
It is 20 months since the 28-year-old made his last one-day international appearance, which suggests he has plenty to prove.
I've never felt his game has lacked power, authority or breadth of stroke-play - Bell has always been a sweet timer of the ball who is able to hit over the top in a very natural way - but he has not made the most of the plentiful opportunities that have come his way.
A return of one century from 76 knocks - 71 of which have been in the top three (26 as opener) where a batsman has time to build a big innings - confirms as much.
Bell's rapid 158 for England Lions against India A this week supports the selectors' view that he is a batsman in cracking form and therefore deserves the nod over the only other obvious alternative, Ravi Bopara.
Where to bat him in the order is more of a conundrum. England must pack at least two power-players into their top three at next year's World Cup and ensure they have more batsmen who fit that template down the order too, to ignite the innings from the 40th over onwards.
While Bell is a perfectly good player at the top of the order, it's highly unlikely - poor form or injury aside - that he will get in ahead of Craig Kieswetter, Andrew Strauss or Pietersen so he'll simply have to take his chance in the middle-order and impress with sheer weight of runs.
Kieswetter is another batsman who could do with a score against Bangladesh after he averaged just 14 in five innings against Australia.
He is still quite raw and technically suspect but the fact that he is an ultra-aggressive front-foot player should stand him in good stead in 50-over cricket if he can tighten up his game.
With Kieswetter, Pietersen and Luke Wright all underperforming against Australia, England looked a batsman light at times.
Wickets are worth more in 50-over cricket than Twenty20, where it's not such a big issue if a batsman chances his arm to no avail, so the selectors may well have to look at the balance of the side again.
There is room for improvement on the bowling front too; James Anderson didn't cover himself in glory against Australia and will surely only benefit from a confidence-boosting run in the side, while Stuart Broad was also expensive at times although happily he still has the knack of picking up crucial scalps at important times.
Certainly the manner of some of his wickets - Michael Clarke fending off a short ball at Cardiff in particular - will have given the Aussies food for thought.
With Graeme Swann rested, stand-in James Tredwell has a chance to keep his name in the frame and the same goes for Ajmal Shahzad if, indeed, he gets a run.
Bangladesh's only chance of winning a game depends on Tamim Iqbal firing at the top of the order, which places a lot of responsibility on a fairly young lad.
I'm very much looking forward to seeing if he can carve England all over the place again as he did with such aplomb in the Test series between the two sides.
It's also good to see Raqibul Hasan in the squad because he looked a great prospect when I saw him score an unbeaten 107 in a three-day warm-up game in Chittagong, back in March.
It was a huge surprise when he stormed off into international retirement at the age of 22 following his omission from Bangladesh's preliminary squad for the ICC World Twenty20 tournament but he's back now and hopefully all is forgiven because the tourists will need all the runs they can get - particularly if their gamble of handing the captaincy to Mashrafe Mortaza does not pay off.
The 26-year-old is an experienced cricketer who is well-respected in the dressing room, so he will be fine from a leadership point of view, but after several knee reconstructions in recent years there must be some doubt as to whether his body is up to the challenge.
He looked miles short of being the bowler we'd seen before, in terms of fitness and form, when I watched him in February's first one-day international in Mirpur and I suspect he'll need plenty of assistance from Shakib Al Hasan over the coming week if Bangladesh are to limit the damage.