South Australia v England XI, Adelaide, 2nd day November 18, 2006

Bell hits the right notes ahead of Ashes

Cricinfo staff

England XI 6 for 303 (Bell 132, Collingwood 80) lead South Australia 7 for 247 dec by 56 runs

Ian Bell punches off the back foot as he collects another boundary during his 132 © Getty Images
Ian Bell warmed up for next week's first Test with a timely hundred as England XI built a first-innings lead against South Australia. He was joined by Paul Collingwood in a third-wicket stand of 178 after Shaun Tait and Jason Gillespie created early alarms by reducing England to 3 for 34.

After the first five overs, in which the nightwatchman Matthew Hoggard and Alastair Cook fell, things went England's way. And there was good news for them too off the field, with the news that Steve Harmison appears to be on the mend after a side strain. Australia, though, were handed another injury scare when Tait was forced to leave the field shortly before stumps.

Tait pulled up four balls into his 20th over and headed to the dressing room 25 minutes before the end of play. A team official said Tait, who was erratic with five wides and nine no-balls, was suffering from cramp but his withdrawal will add to the concerns in the Australian camp after Shane Watson strained a hamstring in a Ford Ranger one-day match on Friday and is in doubt to play in Brisbane.

Tait had continued to cause England problems removing Hoggard early in the morning session with a quick delivery. However, just as South Australia were sensing the chance to increase the pressure on England ahead of the main event at the Gabba, Bell and Collingwood calmed the nerves with an authoritative partnership - mainly against the spinners - full of boundaries square of the wicket. Their effort, under sunny skies with temperatures hitting 35C, replicated the performance from the first day when Cameron Borgas and Darren Lehmann had turned the Redbacks' innings around from 4 for 25.

Both batsmen needed to spend time in the middle, but this was an especially vital innings for Bell. His second-ball duck against New South Wales - pushing away at Stuart Clark - had brought back memories of his poor Ashes series in 2005 which culminated in a pair at The Oval. Without Marcus Trescothick at the top of the order Bell will take on the mantle of No.3 and couldn't afford to enter the fray with negative thoughts. He reached his century off 210 balls, with a neatly flicked four through fine leg.

Collingwood is known as England's man for a crisis and he again showed his composure under pressure with his 172-ball 80, much to the delight of the England fans who made up many of the 5000-strong throng. His captain Andrew Flintoff was delighted, too. "Paul's been shoved up to No.4 a little bit earlier than what he's done in the past," said Flintoff, "but he's responded well to it. He adapts quickly, does Paul."

Collingwood was set to miss out on the opening Test but Trescothick's departure as granted him another chance in the middle order.

Kevin Pietersen had already found form on the tour with his century in Sydney and eased to 32 with five boundaries before falling to Gillespie, leaving one which nipped back and took his off stump. With Pietersen's wicket, Gillespie added to his earlier scalp of Cook who edged to Shane Deitz as he pushed forward.