Bell: Milestone can wait
Ian Bell is about to move on to 99 not out, and is adamant he will be keeping his eye on the ball more firmly than ever at Lord's this week.
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Bell, named England's 2013-14 cricketer of the year in the Long Room at HQ on Monday night, will be back in the middle on Thursday for his 99th Test.
Barring outrageous misfortune, he will then win his 100th cap on June 20 in the second Investec Test at Headingley against Sri Lanka.
He can only hope to make it a happier occasion than those of Kevin Pietersen and captain Alastair Cook last winter, when their individual centuries arrived in defeats in Brisbane and then Perth on the way to Ashes whitewash and an ultimately much messier aftermath.
By contrast, Bell has the opportunity to help Cook and new coach Peter Moores establish a much-discussed new era for English cricket on a sound footing.
To that end, he will be careful to concentrate on the here and now rather than his own three-figure milestone.
Bell acknowledges the mind inevitably drifts on occasion - but one chat with his and Cook's favourite tutor Graham Gooch, England batting coach until the post-Ashes reshuffle, is enough to remind him daydreams are not the way forward in Test cricket.
"It is a funny one, because you are thinking of your 100th one - but as Goochie says, the only match that means anything or the only innings that means anything is the one you're in right now," said Bell.
"The 100th is at the back of my mind, and I'm really excited about that.
"But this game at Lord's is really important for us to start the summer off well.
"We've got seven Tests on the bounce... and the team will always come before me."
For those reasons, Bell will set Leeds aside.
"My milestone at Headingley is not important at all right now - let's start well at Lord's, and then go from there," he added.
"It is vital we kick things off against Sri Lanka as well as possible.
"There are new faces all around, and nothing would be better than to give everyone a taste of success straight away."
There is recognition already, in his cricketer-of-the-year award, for the cornerstone contribution he provided in last summer's Ashes success with his prolific run-making.
Almost a decade into his Test career, Bell surpassed himself for much of his 32nd year - and although he did not manage to replicate those riches down under, banking the memories is no mere indulgence but a tactic to underpin ongoing confidence.
"It is something to be proud of, for sure," he added.
"There were other outstanding performances throughout the year too, even if the winter didn't go to plan.
"Only Michael Clarke and I passed 1,000 Test runs for the year, so that is an achievement in itself.
"It is only the second time I've done it in my career."
Bell knows there is no future in erasing last winter from history, but dwelling on England's collective failure is not a great idea either.
"I hope this is the start of something special for me and the team, helping some of these young guys through," he said, as he prepares to take the field this week with up to three Test debutants.
"We have played some good cricket at home for a long time now, and our record shows we should be confident about our cricket on our own patch - which bodes well for the summer.
"It is easy to look at the winter and get down, but... to win three Ashes on the bounce means we must have been doing something right.
"It was going to come to an end at some point but we wish it hadn't been quite so dramatic.
"To lose 5-0 was devastating and hurt a lot of people.
"But we should remember there was some really good stuff to enjoy in the summer as well, and it was great to be a part of."
England's mantra, since Moores returned, has been one of responsibility for senior players like Bell to rally round Cook - more so, by their own admission, than they managed last winter.
"It feels like an exciting challenge, being a leader in the group," he added.
"It is a different situation for us all. Over the past five or six years, the team has been so settled... and suddenly this is a new place with new goals.
"The key, above all, is to play like a senior player and deliver big performances out in the middle.
"It is all well and good talking about the game and what is required, but we've got to walk the walk too and show the newer players what is expected.
"I think there is a massive role to play, and I think Cooky's going to need that support as well.
"He's made some big decisions, and we now need to get behind him and have a great summer for England."