It is the natural order of sport and life that cricketers come into the game and they depart. At the end of every season, some announce their retirement and others are let go – a euphemism for being sacked.
Occasionally, a playing career ends and everyone who loves the game, regardless of team or national loyalties, pauses and, literally or metaphorically, utters a sigh of genuine regret.
The announcement of Ian Bell’s retirement is just such a moment.
Warwickshire’s Bob Willis Trophy match against Glamorgan will be Ian’s final red ball game; and next weekend, he will make a last appearance for the Birmingham Bears in the T20 Blast.
The statistics of his career are massively impressive. He played 118 Tests for England, 161 one day internationals and eight T20 internationals. He was part of five Ashes-winning sides. He scored, in total ,26 centuries for England plus 81 fifties. In 2013, he scored 562 Ashes runs including three centuries to see England to a 3-0 series win.
For his county, Warwickshire, across a 21 year career, he won two County Championship titles, a One-Day Cup and a T20 Blast.
There are many more statistics that could be quoted to flesh out a highly successful career, but many will feel about Ian Bell as Neville Cardus did about the great Australian batsman, Victor Trumper: “Not by counting runs,” said Cardus, “not by looking at any records, will you get the slightest idea of his glorious cricket. You might as well count the notes of the music of Mozart.”
So it is with Ian Bell. What most cricket lovers will remember about him is that sublime cover drive, played with an ease and grace that belied the high levels of skill and judgement involved. Unlike, say, Kevin Pietersen who played his own trademark shots with an ebullience bordering on arrogance, Ian Bell would stroke the ball through the covers with an almost diffident air, as if he could hardly believe the levels of grace combined with effectiveness that he was showing to the world.
Although it is quite right that he should not be measured just in figures, it is sadly true that the scoreboard has told the story of why Ian Bell has decided that it is time to go. This season, coming back from injury in 2019, his six first class innings have produced a meagre return of just 44 runs and he has scored 41 runs in his three T20 knocks.
As he himself says: “While my hunger and enthusiasm for the sport that I love remain as strong as ever, my body simply can’t keep up with the demands of the game to the standard which I expect of myself.”
Typically for someone who has been a devoted Bear through and through since childhood, Ian adds: “I couldn’t disrespect the club I love by being unable to play to the level they deserve.”
Warwickshire Sport Director Paul Farbrace has summed up Ian Bell’s contributuon to the game, to England and to Warwickshire:
“Ian will retire from the game as a true Bears legend. He’s come through our development system and Academy, won every trophy possible, and he has broken Club batting records.
“During his 12-year international career, he was also a fantastic ambassador for Warwickshire CCC who scored runs all over the world and was firmly established as one of the world’s best batsmen.”
There is no doubt that Ian Bell will continue to have a life in cricket. He was England’s batting coach at the Under-19 World Cup earlier this year and it is in coaching that his future almost certainly lies.
He had, for much of his career, a coach and mentor in the late Neal Abberley, from whom he no doubt absorbed lessons that he can pass on to future generations.
All cricket lovers will wish Ian Bell the best of good fortune in his future whilst hoping that, in his final appearances as a player, his sumptuous cover drive can be in evidence just a few more times.