First Test, Day Three, The Ashes: Determined Bell helps steady England recovery

Posted: July 12, 2013 by thecognitivenomad in Cricket, The Ashes 2013
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Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

You can carp over England’s performance over the first three days up to a certain point all you like, with a fair sense of justification around loose strokes and a couple of idea-devoid sessions on Day 2. But you can’t accuse them of at least not trying to salvage some morale through responsible batting during the second innings.

Ian Bell, as he’d shown over many an innings post his maturity, finished the day unbeaten on a well-paced 95 – an innings that tilted the scales towards England. He’s mastered the art of wearing down bowlers; waiting for the right occasion to unleash his aesthetic drives through the off-side. He is what the likes of Phil Hughes and Rohit Sharma should become – boys who entered the international scene with immense potential, waiting to grow in to men who can carry the burden of expectations on their shoulders moving forward.

Bell's gritty, unbeaten 95 help steady a ship that otherwise was ready to run off course

Bell’s gritty, unbeaten 95 help steady a ship that otherwise was ready to run off course

Bell’s style is placed on simple principles coupled with a style that pleases the eye. But what he lacked initially was a quality that he’s gained, and gained substantially well over the last three years. The boy became a man with a few match-saving, and winning, innings in South Africa – a fluent 140 followed by a persistent 78 against the likes of Steyn, Morkel and co.

A successful Ashes followed down under, before the perils of the turning ball in the subcontinent raised a few eyebrows over his technique under such conditions. But he’s recovered strong enough to pose as a fulcrum of the middle order at 5 – acting as the meat of the sandwich between the flamboyant, boisterous Pietersen and the exuberant, young Bairstow.

Bell, like Cook and Pietersen earlier, showed a lot of intent towards occupying the crease for as long as he could. So did Broad, who refused to walk after edging one to Clarke at slip off Agar, off a deflection courtesy Haddin’s gloves. Australia had no reviews left.

How Aleem Dar failed to notice that will remain an unsolved mystery. Broad’s deadpan expression following that was a classic. But the notion of walking rarely gets mentioned especially when these two teams meet. England will point to the Hot-Spot blunder that presented Trott his first golden duck in Test Cricket as a karmic equivalence. Clarke didn’t seem too pleased. But the game already has had its fair share of contentious decisions.

Haddin made a nuisance out of himself by dropping Bell in the very next over, a fairly difficult chance though. Australia desperately needed a wicket if their dreams weren’t to feel totally futile. They’d toiled hard to get Pietersen and Cook before lunch, after which Matt Prior threw away his wicket to a needless shot that matched his wicket-throwing first innings stroke.

Australia responded to the doggedness shown by Bell and Broad, but not with too much vigor. Agar got plenty of bounce, showed encouraging signs of proving his mettle as a bowler. It was a shame that his team had no reviews left when Broad smashed one off his edge to Clarke. At the other end, Bell was given plenty of opportunities to commit himself to the expansive drive – a temptation that he intelligently restricted, especially of the bowling of Shane Watson.

He played late, played his shots with soft hands to construct an aptly paced innings given the circumstances. England had plenty of time at their disposal, with an ardent need to keep the scoreboard ticking. Any run rate freeze would’ve exposed them to the risk of a collapse resembling their first innings domino. If a lead of 250 was their first milestone, they got there comfortably with Bell and Broad well stuck in.

The Australians were forced in to redrawing their contingency plans for chasing a score that appeared to cross 300. Not every innings can script a record breaking tenth wicket stand. England’s continued resistance crystallized the notion that they aren’t a weary shadow of the team that clinched the Ashes down under last year.

There was a sense of staleness about the Australian attack when things didn’t go their way. As Broad and Bell ticked on, Pattinson tried every trick in his young repository of skills to reverse the red cherry. His valiant attempts, though, didn’t yield a wicket.

The first session of Day 4 will decide the likely outcome of the first test. Many a skeptics fear of the game unlikely to run on to the fifth day can be buried to rest, unless a dramatic Australian collapse exhibits itself tomorrow. Or if they manage to chase down 300 odd with a series of Agar-ian innings.

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