Anyone who watched Ian Bell score a fluent 90 in his final first class innings against Glamorgan in Cardiff last month could well be forgiven for asking: "Why he is he retiring?"
It is true, Bell looked in perfectly good nick that grey day in the Welsh capital. But that fluent knock was delivered with a tweaked groin which served to underline his confidence that he had made the right decision.
Batting had become far less comfortable…which was a big factor in a decision with which he is very comfortable.
“I had every intention of playing next year,” Bell said. “That’s why I signed another contract. Ahead of the 2020 season, I did all the training and fitness and everything felt fine. It wasn’t until we played four back-to-back four-day games and a little bit of T20 that I got a feeling of how my body would feel under the pressures of playing sustained cricket.
“The decision is just me being honest. Physically, where I am now, post-injuries, I just don’t think I would have got through the whole of next season and, if I was to get injured and not be able to complete the season, that would have been wrong for the club. It’s right that the club knows that I’m not going to be there next year, so they can plan.Ian Bell
“I feel in a really good place with the decision. I know that, over 22 years, I can’t have given any more. I have given absolutely everything, in preparation, in training and in matches for both Warwickshire and England. I hope the supporters always felt that I give 110 per cent every time I play.
“This is just the right time to move on. I don’t want to block a place for the players who are going to take this club forward – and that’s what I want more than anything, for Warwickshire to move on and win trophies.”
And Bell reckons that, with the young crop of players currently coming through the system at Edgbaston, those days might be just around the corner.
“From what I have seen, ability-wise, it’s there,” he said. “Now it’s just about understanding how to win games of cricket and that will come in the next couple of years. When we won the championship in 2004, nobody saw it coming, but it’s amazing how quickly you can gather momentum when you have a team which is hungry and desperate to improve and if you are smart with overseas signings. I see similarities with the 2004 squad and the current one with one of the best crops of youngsters we have had coming through the system for a while.
“Rob Yates has a fantastic temperament. Dan Mousley is the same. Henry Brookes is a 21-year-old lad bowling death overs in T20 cricket. There is real talent there and beneath that in the academy there are some really good players coming through.
“Those young guys are ready to contribute and then there are players aged around 25, like Dom Sibley, Will Rhodes and Olly Stone – still quite young but with their best years ahead. It will take a lot of dedication and sacrifice and some hard graft to get back to winning the championship but, in terms of ability, it is there. With some smart recruitment, success might not be far away.”
For Bell, the future is still to be ascertained. He will certainly not be short of offers but, first up, will come a break from the game in which he has spent his entire adult life.
“In the short term, I’ll get away from cricket, play a bit of golf and watch the Villa,” he said. “The kids have just started a new school so there will be some nice things to do. Beyond that, I’m quite ambitious with what I want to do in coaching. It will be nice to have a new challenge, even though it will be quite daunting and very different.
“There’s no doubt when next April comes round, and I’m not playing cricket and Warwickshire start their first game, it will feel very strange. I know it is the right decision but it will be a sad time because I will wish I was out there playing with the lads. There will be a lot of adjustment to do – I am fully aware of that.
“I do want to stay in the game. I love the thought of helping guys improve and problem-solve and find ways of being the best cricketers they can be. I had a taste of that last winter with the young Lions. I thoroughly enjoyed that and got a lot of satisfaction from watching Dan Mousley score a hundred against Sri Lanka.
“Media stuff is good fun but I really enjoy helping young players improve so if I can pass on my knowledge and help players improve then that’s what I want to do.”
And what about Ian Bell the batsman? Will that exquisite cover drive ever be exhibited in public again?
Well, just maybe…
“My son Joseph loves his cricket and when you watch kids, and it starts to rain and they don’t play and get so upset, then it really shows you why you played the game in the first place. I see that every day when I see him talk about cricket and football.Ian Bell
“The only way I could see myself playing again is when Joseph steps into men’s cricket. Maybe I might strap on the pads and bat 11 and be in the field – that would be quite a cool thing to do, to say you’ve played with your lad. He’s been playing for K&D Under 9s this season and absolutely loves it.
“Sometimes, when you are a professional cricketer, and it’s a job and a business and there are lots of things you have to make sure are right, especially with England, you get lost in it. Then you remember why you played the game in the first place, because you just loved getting out there – and because it’s such a great game to play.”