Ian Bellindia Updated: Oct 23, 2006 17:00 IST
Once described by Dayle Hadlee as the best 16-year old he had ever seen, Ian Bell had been earmarked for greatness long before he was drafted onto the England tour of New Zealand in 2001-02, as cover for the injured Mark Butcher.
Tenacious and technically sound, Bell is a top-order batsman very much in the mould of Michael Atherton, who was burdened with similar expectations when he made his England debut a generation ago.
And like Atherton, it is Bell's mental attitude to the game that has set him apart from his peers. He is particularly adept at leaving the ball outside off stump, and he has received glowing reviews from coaches at every stage of his development, not least from Rod Marsh at the England Academy, a man not given to hyperbole.
A former England U19 captain, Bell had played just 13 first-class games when called into the England squad, though in 2001 he scored 836 runs for Warwickshire at an average of over 64, including three centuries. Amid all the attention, Bell's form slumped, but by 2004 he was on his way back. He finally made his Test debut against West Indies in August 2004, stroking 70 in his only innings, before returning the following summer to lift his career average to an obscene 297 with two unbeaten innings against Bangladesh, including his maiden Test century at Chester-le-Street.
Unsurprisingly, he wouldn't find such easy pickings on offer for the rest of the summer. Found out - like so many others - by Australia's champions, McGrath and Warne, he mustered just 171 runs in ten innings, but bounced back that winter, top-scoring for the series against Pakistan, including a classy century at Faisalabad.