Bell impresses as England battle back to draw historic Ashes
Former Hungerford and Berkshire bowler Lauren Bell took 14 wickets as England drew with Australia in a landmark Ashes series.
While Australia, having won the last series Down Under, retained the historic urn following an 8-8 draw, Bell and her teammates captured the hearts of the nation as they came from 6-0 down to win two of the three series and rescue an 8-8 draw.
Being played concurrently with the men's series, the women's team found themselves with unprecedented exposure and attention, selling well over 75,000 tickets, playing at the country's largest and most famous grounds and turning out in front of sold out crowds for all three One Day Internationals.
Bell featured in all seven matches, taking three wickets in the Test match, four in the three T20s and seven in the three ODIs as the seamer, who used her trademark in-swinger to devastating effect, furthered her reputation as one of cricket's most exciting talents.
Despite the ultimate disappointment of failing to regain the Ashes, this was England's best result since 2018 and clear evidence that the team have managed to considerably close the gap to Australia – the world's highest ranked team across all three formats – since their emphatic 12-4 defeat in the previous series.
Bell was fundamental to England's success and is emblematic of the direction the team are taking, with a core of experienced players helping to mentor a crop of talented and exciting youngsters who have the potential to rival Australia for sporting supremacy in the years to come.
And the 22-year-old fast bowler looks back on the series – her first Ashes, having been a reserve when the side toured the Southern Hemisphere in 2021/22 – with a mixture of pride and a resolve to go one better when the urn is next up for grabs.
"It's taken a while to sink in but it was unbelievable," she said.
"I loved it, the crowds and the support we had made it a special series to be a part of.
"Coming away with two series wins and a draw overall, we'd have taken that at the start.
"Obviously, we wanted to go and win it but we were happy as a team and there's still plenty more to come from this side."
The Ashes is one of the most famous and ferociously contested series in sport and Bell, who made her England debut against South Africa last summer, said the unique competition felt special.
She said: "It was like nothing I've ever experienced.
"I'm not used to those crowds and that support playing in an England shirt, we've never had that before.
"I was very nervous but I loved it."
The series started with a thrilling Test match at Trent Bridge, both the first ever women's Test match to feature five full days of play and the first since 2015 to feature a result other than a draw.
After opener Tammy Beamount had scored a historic double hundred in the first innings, England were in a good position to win at 55/0 chasing 268 in the fourth and final innings of the match until a dramatic collapse saw the hots bowled all-out for 178, handing Australia an 89-run win and a 4-0 lead in the series.
Bell, who had played just one four-day international Test match prior to the game in Nottinghamshire, took three wickets in the game and felt it was a memorable week in spite of the result.
"I think we were in a great position and so we were a bit disappointed not to get over the line," she said.
"We came away from the game with so much hope because we proved we could match the Aussies."
Bell took two wickets but England lost the first T20 at Edgbaston, with Australia surpassing the hosts' total in the penultimate ball of the match.
That left England 6-0 down and, with the shorter format matches being worth two points each, needing to win all the remaining games to regain the Ashes.
While that proved a bridge too far, with Australia winning the second ODI by three runs at Bell's home ground of Southampton, England set out on a superb comeback, winning the final two T20s to take the series 2-1 and winning the first and last ODIs to take that series as well.
Bell felt that the belief within the squad as well as the support of the home crowds spurred her side on to pull off one of the most remarkable fightbacks in Ashes history.
She said: "We never stopped believing but, if you'd told us after the first T20 we were going to come back and win the last two series, I think we'd have thought it was a bit of a stretch.
"We were really focused on taking it one game at a time, if we looked at the bigger picture I think we risked intimidating ourselves with how daunting the challenge was.
"Each time we turned up, we had a job to do on that day and after we won one we started to get a bit of momentum going.
"We always had that belief, even after the first two games, that we could beat Australia but we just needed to do a few things better at crucial times and we started doing that."
All three ODI matches were a sell-out for the first time, with both sides playing close to their best cricket and the first two games going down to the wire, with England comfortable winners in the final match to clinch the series.
The first game – in Bristol – saw England chase down a record total of 264 at the death, with the home side getting across the line with two wickets and less than two overs spare and with Bell nervously waiting in the pavilion as the next batter in.
"I don't think I've ever been so nervous, I was desperate not to have to bat," she said.
"It's not a secret that batting is not exactly my strong suit, I was so glad that Crossy (Kate Cross) and Heather (Knight) played a captain's innings and spared me.
"The ODIs were so special, especially playing at Southampton at my home ground, that was amazing."
Throughout the series, Bell was handed the ball at vital times, opening the bowling alongside veteran Kate Cross in the Test and bowling at the death in the short format matches.
The seamer, who has a close relationship with Cross as well as spinner Sophie Ecclestone – the world's best ranked bowler – relished the responsibility and said she was glad to have some more experienced heads surrounding her to help her deal with big moments.
She said: "I love the opportunity to open the bowling and take the important overs at the end, it's what I'm in the team to do.
"Having Crossy and Sophie, who is still young but she's got so much experience, helped me a lot.
"Heather (Knight) is a great captain and Lewy (Jon Lewis, head coach) showed a lot of faith in me.
"I want to have the ball thrown to me in the big moments and I hope that can be my job going forward."
Bell also endured a handful of difficult moments, none more so than in the second ODI at her home ground of the Ageas Bowl, when Australian Georgia Wareham hit 26 – including two sixes and three fours – off her final over.
The fast bowler will now take some time off, missing the first two games of Southern Brave's The Hundred campaign – the franchise campaign of 100 balls per side – before returning for the final six matches of the group stage.
"I don't think I realised how much it took out of me," she said.
"The Ashes were an emotional and a physical rollercoaster, I've never played in a series that intense.
"After chatting with some of the medical and management team, we decided I needed to have a break just to make sure when I do go back I'm really ready.
"We've still got a big summer ahead so I wanted to make sure I'm in the best possible position to make an impact."
Bell is set to be back with England in late summer, with Sri Lanka touring for a three-game T20 series followed by a trio of ODI matches, beginning on August 31.