*My favourite player series is where we ask you to tell us who your favourite player is, why they're your favourite player and your best memory. This is a brand new series that is open to anyone and everyone, so if you're interested, get in touch on Twitter. Without further ado here is Tom with his favourite player. Make sure you follow him on Twitter @cricthoughts
Class. When I think of Ian Bell, the one word that springs to mind is class. One of the sweetest timers and most graceful and elegant stroke makers English cricket has ever seen. It always surprises me that Bell played for the England Under 19 side before making his first-class debut for Warwickshire, an uncommon path for young cricketers. A sign however, that several members of the England set-up at the time saw plenty of potential in him.
I first saw him play in my first experience of test cricket, the 2005 Ashes series. I was only 6, so I was too young back then to appreciate much of what I watched on that incredible first day at Edgbaston. The series, however, was a disappointment for Bell, averaging just 17.10, lower even than his Warwickshire teammate Ashley Giles. At that point, precious few would have put money on him becoming the second Englishman after Botham to be involved in five Ashes series wins.
From 2005 onwards my interest in cricket only increased, and I was fortunate enough for this to coincide with one of greatest periods for English test cricket in recent times. Seeing the eventual world number one side being assembled was a joy, although Bell was not always selected with occasional lapses in form leading to him being dropped. Every time he was dropped however, Bell did what was required and made runs on the county circuit before being recalled. The mental strength he showed to come back time and again is something I hugely admire him for.
Bell really became a feature of the England side in 2009/10 with 199 against South Africa his highest score at the time. He then excelled in the famous Ashes triumph in 2010/11 and only got better from there.
My personal favourite memory of Bell in an England shirt was seeing him score a beautiful 126 against the West Indies at Southampton in an ODI in 2012. This was the first time I had seen Bell score a century live and he was just phenomenal to watch. He timed the ball so sweetly and said afterwards that in the past he had been guilty of trying to hit the ball too hard. But here he approached the game like he would a test match, by sticking to the shots he knows well. He managed this all despite being in hospital and requiring stiches the day before, having been hit on the chin in practice.
In test matches it is hard to look past the home Ashes series of 2013, the less said about the one down under the better. This was Bell’s Ashes. In the past he had been criticised for only scoring runs when they ‘didn’t matter’, typically when a teammate had also made runs. However, his runs were vital, all made when the match seemed to be in the balance and heavily turned the tide of the series in England’s favour.
And my favourite possession? An 18 th birthday present of an Ian Bell autographed England shirt.