Ian Bell wants to make history as England’s first six-time Ashes winner – but has been warned only a sustained return to form will keep him in the Test team.
Bell briefly considered calling time on his outstanding career after helping England regain the urn two months ago.
But the 33-year-old has now committed himself to the national team, and has set his sights on being a part of the 2017-18 Ashes in Australia.
There, in his own words, he hopes he can “right the wrongs” of the miserable whitewash England suffered on their last trip Down Under in 2013-14.
To do so, though, he has been left in little doubt that he will have to improve significantly on his 2015 output.
England coach Trevor Bayliss acknowledges Bell’s experience counts, in a developing team currently 1-0 down with one to play against Pakistan, but not as much as runs, which will always be the only true currency.
Bell contributed two crucial 50s to England’s cause at Edgbaston mid-Ashes, and has added two more handy scores so far on the tour of the United Arab Emirates. But flashes of his world-class best will not be enough in the long term.
Reflecting on Bell’s dalliance with retirement, Bayliss said: “I think it’s a question most older players ask themselves when they’re getting closer to the end than the start, but he’s very much aware that performances are the thing that very much count.
“We need him from that experience point of view.
“But what I’m saying is – and everyone’s fully aware of it – that results count as well.”
Bell is set to remain at No 3 when the final Test begins in Sharjah on Sunday, with England needing to overturn a sequence of six defeats in eight matches away to Pakistan, stretching back 10 years, if they are to square this series.
So far, Alastair Cook and his vice-captain Joe Root have been responsible for more than half their runs in the series.
But Bell has fared best of the rest, promising he may be ready to snap out of a mediocre six-month spell, since his last Test hundred, in which he has mustered only 358 runs in 21 innings.
They have come at a sub-20 average, compared with a career output of almost 43 in his 117 Tests.
Bayliss added: “Just because you’ve got experience, you’ve (still) got to be performing as well.
“The players know that, and the selectors and coaches make their decisions based on performances at the top level.”
Bell’s record and pedigree mean England will never dispense with him easily, especially with so many other players still finding their feet at the highest level.
“Obviously at the moment we haven’t got a lot of experience in the batting order, and I think it’s important we have got some experience in the team,” said Bayliss.
“On this tour, if you just take the aggregates and averages of our batters, he’s probably in third spot or round about – he’s averaging almost 40, I think.
“I’m sure he’d like to be scoring more runs as well and he’s a guy who works very hard at his game.”
There will be few better times for a Bell revival than in next week’s must-win match.