The appointment of Ian Bell as captain of both Warwickshire and the Birmingham Bears will have surprised few supporters and disappointed fewer still.
Rightly regarded as a Bear through and through, Coventry born Bell has long been expected to inherit the captaincy once his England days were done.
Bell himself has confessed to coveting the role ever since, as an 11-year-old, he was at Lord’s to see Dermot Reeve lead Warwickshire to a famous one-day title win in 1993.
Bell mentions three priorities in his new role: “It’s a balance between working our way to win trophies, bringing through some young players, also trying to get some of those guys into England shirts.”
In addition, he made a point of mentioning the recent sad death of ex-Bear Tommy Allin. “We’ll be playing for him this season,” he said.
Bell takes over from Varun Chopra who, in 2014, took the team to the NatWest T20 Blast title and to the runners up spot in both the County Championship and the Royal London One-Day Cup.
Last season, however, ended with a whimper rather than a bang. The Bears failed at T20 Finals Day, made no impact in the Royal London and faded away in the Championship to finish in mid-table. Chopra’s personal form with the bat was indifferent all season.
Once tipped strongly for an England cap, he will no doubt be hoping that, spared the burdens of captaincy, he can score enough runs to get back into contention for a place as Alastair Cook’s opening partner. Still only 28 years old, his best batting years should lie ahead of him.
Warwickshire’s director of cricket Dougie Brown welcomed Bell’s appointment. He pointed out that Bell has worn the Bear and Ragged Staff since the age of ten.
“He is an excellent role model for the younger members of the squad and will build on the great work that Varun has done in leading Warwickshire and the Birmingham Bears with huge pride and proficiency.”
Bell himself does not see his acceptance of the captaincy as an admission that his England Test days are over. At age 33, he is, for example, only a year older than Nick Compton; and he may have noted that South Africa will almost certainly give a Test debut this week to Stephen Cook, also 33.
Whether his ongoing Test ambitions are realistic remains to be seen. Like Chopra, he has the incentive to score big runs for the Bears.
If he never plays for England again, he will be able to look back on an international career in which he was on the winning side in five Ashes series.
With new chief executive Neil Snowball now in place, plus the announcement of record profits in 2015 and the appointment of Ian Bell as captain, there is a palpable mood of optimism at Edgbaston Stadium.
By the start of the season in April the hope is that, led onto the field by Ian Bell, the team’s dismal end to last season will be no more than a distant memory.