Bell supreme as England forge ahead
Lunch: Second Test, day three, Trent Bridge
Match score: England 130 for 2 (Bell 84*, Pietersen 20*, Strauss 16) and 221 (Broad 64); India 288 (Dravid 117, Yuvraj Singh 62, Laxman 54, Broad 6 for 46) Full scorecard
Session score: England 106-1 England win session
There are many people who feel Ian Bell should be batting at No 3 for England anyway in Test cricket, and Jonathan Trott’s shoulder injury has given him just the chance to add ammunition to those who would elevate the Warwickshire batsman to the role.
Trott’s magnificent form at first wicket down, since announcing his arrival at Test level with a hundred on debut at the end of the 2009 Ashes series, has condemned Bell – who at 29 is reaching the peak of his powers – to the middle order. For a long time he was stationed at No 6, and only moved up to No 5 since the retirement of Paul Collingwood earlier this year.
This morning, as the gripping second Test continued to enthral at Trent Bridge, Bell led England’s mission to establish a potentially match-winning overall lead with an innings of poise, beauty and effortless timing. At lunch Bell was 84 not out from 106 balls and had dominated a third wicket stand of 73 with Kevin Pietersen, who had scored just 20. England, on 130 for two, led by 63.
Scans yesterday evening confirmed no broken bones in Trott’s sore left shoulder, but his discomfort from the injury – sustained when he dived to stop a ball at mid on during India’s first innings – was painfully clear when he faced just two balls in the nets before play and immediately indicated he did not want to go on. On that evidence, Trott will surely only bat in an emergency and late in the order, while Graeme Swann is also nursing a badly bruised left hand caused when Praveen Kumar dismissed him in England’s first innings.
England started the third day positively, quickly doubling their overnight score of 24 for one in the first 25 minutes. Andrew Strauss clipped the first ball he faced, from Kumar, through mid-wicket for three, and then off drove the same bowler for four with perfect balance and control.
Bell was harsh on Sreesanth, forcing him through the covers off the back foot to appreciative noises from another full house, and then he whipped another boundary to mid-wicket with a flick of the wrists. Indeed, in this form, Bell is one of the best players to watch in the world with his ability to score all round the wicket. He makes batting look easy, which on this pitch has been anything but for two days.
At 57, however, Strauss – on 16 – was drawn into an unwise flash at Sreesanth and edged to MS Dhoni. England were still ten runs behind and much depended now on Bell and his new partner Pietersen.
Dhoni soon introduced Yuvraj Singh’s left arm spin, purely for Pietersen’s benefit no doubt, but that experiment was soon abandoned. Bell, in fact, greeted Yuvraj’s first ball with such a disdainful force to wide mid-wicket for four that it made the decision to bring him into the attack look misguided.
Such was Bell’s mastery that he scored 38 of the first 50 runs he and Pietersen put on for the third wicket. There were ten fours in his own half-century, off 73 balls, with the landmark brought up with a perfect stroke off his pads to the mid-wicket boundary off Ishant Sharma.
He then leg-glanced and delicately cut Sharma for two more fours, from successive balls, and when Harbhajan Singh’s off spin was turned to by Dhoni he was swept by Bell for yet another four. By contrast, it took Pietersen 52 balls before he struck his first four, a paddled sweep off Harbhajan, but KP was sensibly content merely to play the support act. Bell was that good.