THERE will be some sizeable holes in the Warwickshire set-up as they prepare for life back in the First Division.
The departure of Ashley Giles, to the post of the ECB’s Director of Cricket, is a huge blow, particularly as it follows the exit of Jonathan Trott from the county scene after almost two run-strewn decades at Edgbaston.
All of which makes Ian Bell an even more central figure in this part of the Midlands as Warwickshire look to consolidate their position back in cricket’s top flight.
Bell was in typically imperious form as Warwickshire secured promotion from Division Two last season, scoring 1,027 runs at an average of 54, a tally that included five centuries in a summer that most definitely belonged to the bowlers rather than batsmen.
Those runs actually put Bell back in England contention, with an increasing number of voices calling for his recall as a succession of players came and went in England’s top-order.
England’s performances in Sri Lanka before Christmas mean that Joe Root’s side go into the West Indies tour with a far more settled look.
But Bell’s hunger for runs at the age of 36 still appears to be well intact as the new season approaches and his experience will undoubtedly be crucial in a potential season of flux at Warwickshire.
“One of the key things last winter was that I didn’t pick up the bat for a long time,” he says. “I was obviously with England for over 12 years and that can take it out of you.
“We (Warwickshire) had had a tough year in 2017 and when I reflected on that it gave me a real desire to make sure that last year was a good one.
“We didn’t score enough runs in the season we were relegated. But I feel really pleased at what I did last year, I think I was probably somewhere near my best.
“I think I had more energy last year too and just the way I prepared for the game was different – it was something I always had as an England player and I felt like that really returned last season.
“It will be strange not having Trotty around this summer but I think we have players who can stand up and score the runs we need.”
First up, though, is a stint in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) with Islamabad United, following his run with the Dhaka Dynamites in the Bangladesh equivalent.
It’s a measure of Bell’s continued standing in world cricket that he is still attracting interest in a format that many would assume to be his weakest suit.
He was, though, in stunning form in the T20 Blast last season, scoring over 500 runs at a strike rate approaching 140.
“I’ve had a little taste of franchise cricket before with the Perth Scorchers and I’m looking forward to something a little bit different,” he says.
“Playing in the PSL and the BPL can help me play the kind of cricket that I played last summer.
“English white-ball skills have just got better and better over the last two years.
“Before there was a bit of a mystery over what happened in these competitions in the rest of the world, but that’s not there anymore.
“You look at players like (Sam) Billings playing in the IPL under a captain like MS Dhoni, you can’t help but learn from players of that quality and they’re bringing that back here when they return.
“It’s a great environment to learn in, especially for our youngest players.”
Bell will be out to prove that old stagers can still learn the odd trick or two as well.
RICHARD EDWARDS / Photo: Getty Images