Cow Corner

Bell’s slump highlights sensitive issue of paternity leave

Cow Corner

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Sportsmen — they're nothing like us, are they? They are globe-trotting superstars, never short of cash, attention or plaudits. We're just weary-eyed normal folk reading a cricket blog.

But of course, it only takes a moment's reflection to remind yourself that that is nonsense.

The key difference between you and, say, Ian Bell, is that Belly probably doesn't want to watch you work. There's probably a channel that would broadcast it, but England's middle order man will probably be doing something else.

Like starting a family. Midway through this series, Ian flew home for the birth of his son, Joseph William. As fate would have it, he did not make it home quite in time for the arrival - but he did have the opportunity to spend a few days with his wife and child before jetting back to India to reprise his tour with the national team. So far, so warm and fuzzy.

In amongst this trip home, however, Bell's not been doing his day job of scoring runs. With the birth just days away, Bell played a shot so bad it merited an entire blog, then afterwards has come back in a burp of mediocrity, contributing 5, 28 not out, and now a 28-ball innings worth 1 run.

That, unfortunately, is no easily-dismissed blip. Bell's record in India now slips to 18.15 from 15 knocks, only marginally worse than his record against India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka away, which is 25.51 from 19 Tests.

Bell, historically, is effectively half the player in the subcontinent that he is at home (averaging 54.78), or even in Australia (44). In three Tests earlier this year against Pakistan, he conjured up 51 runs at 8.5. What he doesn't need, you'd reckon, when preparing for the trickiest tour of his career, is a distraction.

So with that in mind, should Bell have gone home midway through the series?

Cowers is on the fence on this one. In the interests of full disclosure, he and Ian Bell have something similar - and not just that on current form we're both as likely to score a century in India. Mrs Cowers gave birth to our first child (or should that be calf?) nine weeks ago. See - we are just like sportsmen after all. Those first few days are special and terrifying in equal measure. If you can avoid leaving your other half to endure it alone, then you should. Workplaces in this enlightened age recognise paternity leave as necessary and important, and Ian Bell, whose work contract is with the ECB, was simply exercising what most Brits would now brand a basic right.

But plenty will say no - that the team comes first, regardless whether that would have meant Bell putting up with touring and wait for news of his child via Twitter, or sitting out the series and ceding his place. Some even will cite the soldiers argument to prove their point: 'Troops don't come home if they're on duty; why should a professional cricketer?'

Of course, cricket and war, when Cowers last checked, were not the same thing. If the ICC could convene a global forum inviting dignitaries from around the world for a series of long lunches on the matter, they would probably have to admit as much. There is no sense of duty, no life and death nonsense, to trying to score runs and take wickets for your country, only, one hopes, some real pride knowing that you are doing something a host of armchair fans would love to be doing themselves were they a bit more talented, dedicated, or hell, just not so lazy.

Where the military comparison does bear scrutiny, is that your state of mind can impact your team-mates. If Bell is distracted and off his game, that's an eleventh of England's team weakened. While it's not quite the case in cricket that you're only as good as your weakest link, it's certainly true that carrying underperformers soon hurts a team.

Cricket has seen this situation time and again. Most players in the line-up are at family-starting age, and given that players can spend months on end away from home, the odds are that the birth of a child may well coincide with an appointment on the other side of the world.

From a personal point of view, Bell has every right to go home. From a cricketing standpoint, it is not so clear. If Alastair Cook - who having got married this year may soon find himself in this situation - were to go home mid-series, you'd fancy his concentration and temperament to hold up before and after his trip home. If it were James Anderson, who did a three-day round-the-world trip to go home for the birth of his daughter between the second and third Ashes Tests in 2010-11, and no cricket were missed, it works to the benefit of player and team.

In Bell's case, not only has his form suffered, but his replacements have been messed around too. Jonny Bairstow got one game - in fact, just one innings - before he was sidelined once again. Despite one failure rarely saying anything conclusive about your form or character, Bairstow has now somehow slipped behind his Yorkshire team-mate Joe Root in the pecking order.

Perhaps the one crumb of comfort Bairstow can take is there is bound to be another opportunity to stake his claim soon enough in the baby shuffle. Or perhaps Bairstow will eventually benefit from Bell meandering on bereft of form in India. At present, the calls for his axing have rarely been louder. And if he were given the chop, what chance of winning his place back before the Ashes? Bell may be a mess in the subcontinent, but in the last three English summers he averages 72.5, 119.28 and 52.28 respectively - there's no reason to think he would not make more hay in his back yard against the Australians.

Maybe Bell would be better off in a warm house in Warwickshire changing the nipper's nappies.

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