London: Ian Bell believes Duncan Fletcher will be a "massive plus" for India in the upcoming Test series as he makes use of his time as England coach but insists this current team are a very different side from the one Fletcher coached for eight years.
Bell was one of a number of this England side to play under Fletcher who will have especially good knowledge of the batsmen, upon whom he really made his mark as a coach. Kevin Pietersen retains a very close friendship with Fletcher and the two have kept in contact in recent years especially when Pietersen has struggled for form.
"It's great for India, Duncan Fletcher knows English cricket very well and was very successful over here," Bell told ESPNcricinfo. "He knows Straussy well, he knows myself, he knows Kevin Pietersen. I'm sure we've changed as characters and matured since he's been away, but he'll have a good insight and there's no doubt that's a massive plus for India.
"But in world cricket now information, strengths and weakness, everyone knows about them. We have people working non-stop at Loughborough on stats, percentages and stuff like that. There's no hiding place anymore, so while it's an advantage for India to have him everyone has information about opposition."
Whether Fletcher has compiled a dossier on England's players remains to be seen, but Bell is in no doubt about his strengths as a coach. "He's quite a quiet man and goes about his business in his own way," he said at an adidas event. "He'll know everything about what England have. In 2005 he was a massive part of the plans we had for the Australians - like going round the wicket to Adam Gilchrist - and he's got an unbelievable cricket brain. That's his massive strength. We know he's an incredible coach."
Bell, who made his Test debut in 2004, spent his formative years as an international cricketer under the guidance of Fletcher but is one of best examples of a player who will be very different to the one Fletcher remembers. He is averaging over 300 in Tests this year and is confident that a quiet one-day series against Sri Lanka, where he struggled to adapt to the No. 6 position, won't have burst his bubble.
"I don't think I've spent enough time at the crease to lose form," he said. "In one-day cricket I was doing a different role and to be honest I feel fresh and mentally read to go. I just want to pick up the form I've had for the last couple of years. I really do feel I'm a fully rounded Test cricketer and [I'm excited about] what the next five years holds. I'm desperate to keep improving and have the hunger to get better. We've got some massive goals we want to achieve over the next year as a team."
One of those major team goals is to overtake India as the No. 1 Test team in the world which can be achieved if they win the series by two clear Tests. However, the visitors will be strengthened by the return of Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan and Gautam Gambhir who were among players rested for the West Indies tour, although all three struggled against Somerset over the weekend. The batting order is full of great names, but Virender Sehwag will miss at least the first two Tests as he continues to recover from shoulder surgery.
Zaheer, despite taking 0 for 72 against Somerset and looking short of match fitness after a lengthy lay-off, is expected to form a potent new-ball partnership with Ishant Sharma, while Harbhajan Singh will be the main spin option. Bell, though, insists England won't be overawed by the calibre of facing them.
"We respect them, but you can't over-respect them. You have to have the confidence that you can beat them," he said. "India are No. 1 in the world and you don't just do that by having six great batsmen, you do that by taking 20 wickets. They've got world-class bowlers, but that can also bring the best out of our team.
"Last time here Zaheer was incredible and Harbhajan Singh just hit 400 Test wickets so it's a massive challenge," he added. "When we played in the Ashes we raised our game and that's what we need to do in this series. It's two form teams going head-to-head and you can't ask for better than that. It's the No. 1 form of the game and as players we want to keep it that way."