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Peter English at Adelaide
December 1, 2006
Ian Bell is on the verge of something big. It might be as significant as holding England's batting together over the next decade. Something in the short-term, like a game-altering Ashes century, would form an important stage in his development. He is closing on maturity but there are still pesky blemishes to remove.
Two fifties in consecutive matches have shown Bell at his most determined. Slowly he has become comfortable with Australia's varied attack, protecting himself against threats he gave into during the previous series, and this was his fourth half-century against them. It is not quite enough.
For Bell to become a complete No. 3 he must resist giving his wicket away when the seriously difficult duties have been done. All three England batsmen fell to soft dismissals but Bell's donation was the most unnecessary. The problem was started by Andrew Strauss in Brisbane and has become a catchy concern.
On a pitch tailored for long and patient displays, only batting mistakes proved capable of ending innings. Shane Warne tried to upset the plan by gaining severe turn before lunch but went wicket-less despite some mesmerising patches. Ricky Ponting set cunningly defensive fields, forcing the batsmen to make the pace, but no dismissal was the result of tactical mastery.
Strauss scooped to midwicket, Alastair Cook edged through and Bell embarrassed and angered himself with a badly misjudged hook. England's early progress was hard enough - relying on a bright push from Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood's energetic 98 - without the bouts of self harm.
Bell's error came as he turned briefly from survivor to dominator. Reading Lee's slower ball, he drove behind point for a boundary before crunching another through cover. Both were delightful shots. Instead of settling himself and seeing out the over, as Pietersen did to Warne when taking him for 10 from the first three balls, Bell was overcome by the emotional rush and demanded another boundary.
The short ball from Lee could have been ducked under but Bell attempted to strike him into one of the Chappell stands. His miscue was so great that the top edge was caught by Lee on the pitch. Not that Bell saw the take. His head was down and he was already speeding for the dressing room the instant he felt the ball miss the middle.
It was a sad end as he had toiled for his half-century, just as he did in the first innings at the Gabba before driving airily at Stuart Clark. Before lunch Bell struggled to understand most things Warne sent him, but after the break he collected runs more freely in an essential stand of 113 with Collingwood.
Bell is only 24 and this is his 20th Test so maybe too much is expected too soon. He is playing against the world's best team from a highly vulnerable position and doing well. He could be doing better. Having completed the unfashionable work, he needed to recognise it was time to remain in control so he could have enjoyed the easier pickings.
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