Ian Bell's retirement last month concluded one of the great cricket careers of this era and one of the greatest Warwickshire careers of all time.
Citing one or two too many physical aches and pains for comfort and, most importantly, batting productivity, Bell called time on a career which delivered 34,360 runs across all formats.
In 118 Test matches for England, he scored 7,727 runs at an average of 42.69. Those runs included 22 centuries which sit among his 71 tons in total in all cricket.
Bell was part of five victorious Ashes series and an integral member of the England team which rose to Number One in the world. He played in 161 ODIs and helped Perth Scorchers to the Big Bash title in Australia.
With Warwickshire, with whom he started as a fresh-faced ten-year-old from the village of Dunchurch, near Rugby, he graduated from boy to man through the Edgbaston youth system and went on to help the first team win every domestic trophy.
That is a dazzling CV, brimming with achievements built by batting of the utmost elegance which brought joy to millions between September 15th 1999, his debut against Sussex at Edgbaston, and September 9th, 2020, his final day against Glamorgan at Sophia Gardens.
A brilliant career forged, honed and completed in his beloved Warwickshire. And, asked for his valedictory message to the Bears fans, Bell’s response is heartfelt.
“I can’t thank Warwickshire’s Members and supporters enough. For a lad who first turned up at Cov & North Warwickshire full of dreams, to have 22 years at the best club in the country is a dream come true.Ian Bell
“I have such fond memories. Of the championship wins and T20 Finals Day and Lord’s finals, but also the tougher days when I was supported incredibly well. The memories are incredible and I am just full of thanks. I hope I’ve always had a good rapport with the Bears fans, because I’m one of them! My mum and dad were Warwickshire Members, my brother and I were Junior Bears and, right from my granddad through, we were always Warwickshire.
“I was a member even before I started playing as a Junior Bear and Warwickshire will always be my team. Now I am no longer a professional, I’ll be sat there at Edgbaston watching. If the Bears can win some more trophies it will give me so much pleasure. Having seen the new generation coming through and got to know these young lads, now to sit back and watch them will be great. It was just my dream to go out and represent Warwickshire. For the Bears and England, I lived the dream and am so grateful.
“Hopefully, people have enjoyed watching me play. As a batsman, you always want to score runs but it’s also nice when people enjoy watching what you do. It’s an entertainment business and hopefully people will remember me for being a nice player to watch.”
That is the just possibly the case! News of Bell’s retirement prompted an outpouring of affection across the world.
That cover drive, that timing, the sweet sound of the ball pinging from the middle of the Bell bat, it was loved and admired by cricket-lovers on every continent. And it all started at Binley Road at a time when, over at Edgbaston, things were getting interesting.
“I was very lucky to grow up in an era when Warwickshire were so dominant,” he said. “I saw some great games, especially at Lord’s. I was there in ’93 as an 11-year-old with my family in the Grand Stand. The day just built and built in a fantastic way and I remember running on to the outfield in the dark at the end. That day is the reason I wanted to play for Warwickshire.
“I had some great heroes to aspire to emulate, and then when I was 17, 18, 19, to get into the dressing room and be amongst those guys that I had watched and admired was a dream come true. To be here 22 years later, having won the trophies that those guys did, and played in Lord’s finals, it’s way more than I expected when I first dreamed of playing for the Bears.Ian Bell
“I was very lucky, as were a lot of lads in my year groups, to have the guidance of Neal Abberley, Steve Rouse and Steve Perryman. From Under 11s all the way through, it was a great coaching set up. It was a tough environment but a fair environment and got us ready for professional cricket. Without that upbringing, I certainly wouldn’t have achieved what I have achieved.
“Neal, in particular, was brilliant. He was the guy that, even as an international player, I always went back to, to hone and tinker with little bits of technique and make sure I was on top of my game before I went back into a Test match environment.
“But it was about much more than cricket coaching. There was all the help and advice off the field, the mentoring and sometimes a lot of honesty. Sometimes, that is what you need as a young player. You need to be asked tough questions because, in first-team cricket, you are thrown tough questions all the time and you need to be able to handle those.
“The coaches were brilliant and then to have Dennis Amiss as chief executive and MJK Smith as chairman with all their experience and knowledge, and Keith Cook, such a massive part of the Club, as a young player it was incredible to have that support.”
*In Part Two, tomorrow, Bell offer thanks to more of the coaches who were integral to his development as a serial trophy-winner with Warwickshire and an Ashes-winner with England.