England captain Alastair Cook insists Ian Bell still has a Test future after the out-of-form batsman was dropped for the forthcoming tour to South Africa.
Bell a veteran of 118 Tests, admitted he was “absolutely gutted” after hearing he had been left out of the South Africa trip following a miserable series against Pakistan.
The 33-year-old has been struggling for much of the last two years, in which he has averaged 29 and scored only two centuries.
But Cook admitted he called Bell personally to discuss the decision and he believes his long-time team-mate can reinvigorate and extend his Test career by taking time out of the spotlight, as the England skipper managed after missing this year’s World Cup.
“You will miss his experience, but I think he would be the first to admit he hasn’t quite scored the runs he would have liked in the last two years,” Cook told reporters on Thursday.
“It’s a weird thing but sometimes missing a tour or missing some time might do him the world of good.
“I think he’s been on every tour in one sense since 2000, so a bit of time away from the game might do him the world of good.
“I only look at the World Cup squad a year ago and how gutting it was for me to miss that.
“But two months out of the firing line, some time to be at home, it gave me a new level of understanding and a new lease of life.
“I have spoken to Ian, and yeah it was an interesting phone call.
“All I got from it is how desperate he is to come back.
“It’s a great encouragement that a player of his class who has done so much is still hungry to come back at the age of 33 and still show what he can do all over again.”
– Great chance -Alex Hales, Gary Ballance, Jonny Bairstow and Nick Compton will all fight for Test spots on the winter tour, with Cook expecting England’s youngsters to make quick progress.
“From where Trevor (Bayliss) spoke at the end of Pakistan he’ll certainly be given the first opportunity at it,” said Cook of Hales’ chances of a top-order berth.
“In the last six months in international cricket he has experienced a great deal. So it’s a great chance for him now.
“Nick (Compton) has got a great opportunity now too, we haven’t quite got a settled top seven.
“With Gary (Ballance) coming back, and Nick coming back they’ve had a taste of it before so there’s a real opportunity for people to stake their claim.
“There’s opportunity for people to put their hands up and make a name for themselves.”
Steven Finn could still take part in England’s tour as he continues his recovery from a foot injury.
Cook backed Finn to join the tour “sooner rather than later”, but insisted the first Test would come too soon for the 26-year-old pace bowler.
The opening Test of England’s four-match series against the South Africans starts in Durban on December 26.