Bell on song for England – Day Four at The Rose Bowl

Well cover my torso with marmalade and call me Susan. Yesterday we actually had a full day’s play. No rain interruptions. No bad light – and no unnecessary breaks for sandwiches during the best weather of the day. With a couple of sessions tomorrow, we might well wrap up the series 2-0. But don’t hold your breath. The forecast looks pretty ominous from 2pm onwards. If we want to win, we’ll probably have to take the remaining seven Lankan wickets in two/three hours. We’ll see.

I really hope for the Rose Bowl’s sake that this match has a positive result. So much effort has gone into staging test cricket in Hampshire – it would be really unfair if the enduring memory of the third test is umbrellas, storm clouds and a flooded outfield. At one point on Friday, I’m sure I saw an ark floating on the horizon.

The star performer for England on day four was undoubtedly Ian Bell. I’ve got to admit that when Bell was picked in the 2005 Ashes I was incredulous. Surely Thorpe should have batted at four, and KP five? However, Duncan Fletcher had so much faith in the little chap from Warwickshire, that Bell’s name was already etched in stone at second drop.

It therefore came down to a choice between the ageing Thorpe, whose back was beginning to creak like a village pavilion, and Pietersen, who looked like a skunk.  The skunk won – thus ending the career of one of England’s finest servants; Thorpe had been scoring runs at the time and deserved a lot better.

When the series began, the pressure was very much on Bell – and many doubted whether he was the man for the job. We could all see his promise. He looked composed at the crease, drove pleasantly through the offside, and was neat off his legs. There was just one problem: the sherminator syndrome.

During the early part of his career, Bell looked like he belonged in high-school. He appeared easy to intimidate, and the Aussies had him in their pocket. Warne, in particular, looked able to lure Bell into rash shots … like a father manipulating a child with a packet of sweeties.

Apart from two half-centuries at Old Trafford, Bell was hopelessly out of his depth (he averaged little over twenty in the series). There is no question that Fletcher and the selectors made the wrong call. Thorpe would have worried the Australians more.

Because England won the series in glorious fashion, the selectors’ mistake was soon forgotten. However, Bell’s international career continued to limp along until 2010, when – like many English batsmen – he began to mature in his late twenties . Sure, he played the odd innings of note beforehand, but he never seemed to belong – or really believe in himself.

These days it’s a different story. He looks every inch the test batsman. He’s composed, confident and oozes class. In this observer’s opinion, he is the best batsman in the England side – and on current form, I cannot think of a more complete batsman in the world (apart from that Indian bloke called Sachin something or other).

Take Bell’s performances in this series. When England have needed him to dig in, he’s proved almost impossible to dislodge. However, unlike Cook and Trott, who always seem a bit one-paced, Bell also has the ability to accelerate and set up declarations. What’s more, he always does so without resorting to brute strength. He just picks the gaps and plays shots all around the wicket. It’s all timing and intelligence. His century yesterday was a joy.

England’s other star from yesterday was … wait for it … Stuart Broad. Didn’t expect that one, did you. After looking totally innocuous in the first innings, and making a rather unfortunate duck when he batted, the vultures were beginning to circle (or should that be the sharks, bearing in mind that his likely replacement is a bloke called Finn). However, Broad finally put in a great spell at the backend of the day. He bowled with rhythm, decent pace, and the ball that got Jayawardene was a peach.

James Morgan


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