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Ian Bell has been in sublime touch with 500 runs during the Ashes. His performances - three centuries and two fifties in eight innings - have been a key factor behind England retaining the urn and have put him as a prime contender for the Man-of-the-Series award. However, as Vic Marks recalls while writing for the Guardian, the going wasn't always this easy for England's current go-to batsman.
Now as he walks to the crease he is a source of reassurance. He has shared vital partnerships with Pietersen, in which their contrasting methods have been highly complementary - "he cuts, I pull; he flicks it; I drive it" - but it is Bell who has suggested the greater permanence and who has produced more runs. The opposite was the case when they started their Ashes careers together back in 2005. The brash Pietersen revelled in the atmosphere straightaway; Bell was not so sure. In five Tests in 2005 he scored 171 runs and 124 of those came in two innings at Old Trafford. The Australians patronised him, calling him the "Sherminator". Adam Gilchrist behind the stumps talked through him to the bowler at the other end, "Jeez, Shane, I've never seen anyone try to play you like this before", and Bell felt pretty small.
Australia's collapse from a position of strength in the chase at Chester-le-Street has reiterated a major problem facing the team: who after Ricky Ponting at No. 3? Greg Baum, writing for the Age, looks at the bigger picture.
... When Ponting returned to Australia for the birth of his daughter, Shaun Marsh stepped in at first drop for the second Test, and promptly made a debut century. When Ponting rejoined for the third Test, it was down the order a notch. He would never make another run at No. 3. Seemingly, Marsh had opened a door, but it was to an abyss. In two years and 26 Tests since, eight men have appeared at No. 3, collectively averaging a meagre 22. Not one has made a century. But they have made nine ducks, including three in one series for Marsh, and one for Clarke, in his only captain's innings at No. 3.
No. 3 remains a black hole. In this series, it was occupied in the first Test by Ed Cowan, and since by Usman Khawaja. Apart from Khawaja's 54 on the last day at Lord's, in a cause already long lost, the highest score is 24. The ill-starred Khawaja looks to be playing himself out of the team again, though now that the Titanic is fatally holed, there is no point in shuffling the deck chairs again at the Oval. Khawaja, now sans lifejacket, must sink or swim.
What do you remember of the great bowling spells you have witnessed? According to Andy Bull, our memories of great bowling spells are not so much the exact details, but the unexpected impressions, born from being swept by the adrenaline and energy at the ground. In his column for the Guardian, Bull writes about how he will remember Stuart Broad's memorable spell at Chester-le-Street.
The jaffa that Stuart Broad delivered to Michael Clarke on Monday evening will last. But not so well, in my mind, as the loud thump of Brad Haddin's bat as he dropped it, like an axe into a stump, on the yorker Broad sent him as a welcome to the wicket. It was so fast and forceful that the sound echoed around the ground like a gunshot across a moor. Or Broad's anger when he was told by Alastair Cook that the bad light meant he would have to come off. And how he was led, almost by the hand, away to mid-off, like a boxer ordered by the referee to stand in the corner while his opponent took a 10 count.
England captain Charlotte Edwards remembers when she played Test cricket in a skirt. Her compatriot Laura Marsh learnt her trade in a team full of boys. Now, women's cricket has come into its own on the global stage with greater crowds and higher television coverage promoting Edwards' prediction that in the next 10-15 years, the women's game could attract as many people as the men's version. And just as importantly spur young girls to look at cricket as a career writes Jenny Cornish in the Telegraph.
Zoey Cape, 15, from Somerset, is one of the new generation of female players coming through. A Chance to Shine coach spotted her natural talent on a visit to her school, and she was invited to join Minehead Cricket Club. The teenager had only ever played cricket in her back garden, messing about with her brothers, so it was a big step for her to go to a cricket club. And in July last year, Cape made her debut for Somerset's senior women's side.
Pete Smith in his blog for the Guardian offers an insight into Ellyse Perry, social sciences student, opening bowler and professional footballer for Australia.
The 22-year-old not only plays two sports at the elite level, she does it alarmingly well and has the Botham-esque knack of creating something from not much. She debuted for Australia's senior national football team as a 16-year-old and scored a goal after just 90 seconds. In recent years Perry has found her football niche as an overlapping full-back and regularly sets up goals via her dead-ball acumen, invariably delivered with the same pinpoint accuracy as her 120kph bowling.
The last time an Australian touring side was 2-0 down after three Tests in the Ashes was in 1977. By the end of the series, which England won 3-0, Wisden would go on to describe their cricket as a 'very light shade of grey'. Neil Clark, in the Spectator, reminisces about the strange summer where he rooted for Australia in spite of being a Brit (a following based on his love for the underdog) and found a hero in former Australian opener Ian Davis.
In cricket, supporting the underdog meant siding with Australia when they came to contest the Ashes in Britain in 1977. I had cheered on England in 1975 against the Australians and in 1976 when they took on the West Indies. But in the summer of 1977, I kind of fell in love with the Australian team. Everything was against them.
England have retained the Ashes, but Australia were the better side at Old Trafford, thanks primarily to a brilliant century from Michael Clarke. Greg Baum writing for the Age assesses Australia's performance and links their chances of squaring the series to the Australian captain's form.
Michael Clarke is Australia's Moses, leading the Israelites into battle against the Amalekites. For as long as Moses held his staff in the air, his tribe prevailed, but when fatigue caused him to lower his arms, the tide turned. Clarke's staff is his bat.
To put it another way, Clarke has made 10 Test centuries as captain, the rest of the batting a total of 16 centuries under his captaincy. In the team as it stands, only Warner has made a Test century for Clarke. Moses at least had help, Aaron and Hur each holding up an arm. Clarke is being left to hold up Australia singlehandedly, moreover with a crook back.
They say you don't change a winning combination, but Simon Hughes, in the Telegraph advocates the case of Graham Onions as the Ashes caravan moves to his home turf at Chester-le-Street.
Anderson's exceptional skill and versatility is indisputable and the pitch was benign, but there was a slight sameness to England's seam attack. Their pitch maps are practically photocopies of each other. Onions is different. He bowls from closer to the stumps and on a fuller length. He preys on batsmen who plant their feet and work straight balls to leg, and Australia have several of those. Hawk-Eye could be working overtime.
Darren Lehmann boomed that Shane Watson was one of Australia's first choice openers well ahead of the first Ashes Test. But with the English bowlers exploiting his front-foot play - considered one of his great strengths - continuously to dismiss him, he was pushed down the order when Australia needed quick runs to set a target in the third Test, a situation that would have had Watson's name all over it had the batsman been in form. Malcolm Knox in the Age delves into the mystery of what ails the Australia allrounder.
His misfortune was perhaps to come into the Australian team when the baggy green conferred magical powers. Arrogance was required. Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting so dominated the pitch that they were practically hitting the ball out of bowlers' hands. This encouraged a front-foot technique and a policy of intimidation. What affected Watson were two changes. One was that the great players retired, giving him responsibilities beyond his abilities. The tide went out, leaving just the bluster. The other was DRS, which meant that batsmen could no longer get away with the front-foot stomp. Was Watson's failure to convert starts into big scores a weakness that was mental, or technical?
Manchester ended an eight-year break up with Ashes cricket for the third Test in 2013. Local boy James Anderson felt strange mentioning 'Old Trafford' and 'state-of-the-art' in the same sentence, but that is what the stadium has become after spending the last three years under redevelopment. Clad in the Lancashire red, an almost brand new Old Trafford made its presence felt without trading in its traditional feel writes Barney Ronay in the Guardian
Old Trafford has never been a bijou secret garden like Lord's or a city bolt hole like The Oval. It is instead a low-slung mix-and-match urban bowl, a ground that still allows the surrounding streets to peer in through the cracks. And for all the vague sense of tiered segregation and the hefty queues for bars and seats and ice cream vans - plus a fair helping of the claustrophobia common to all English Test grounds - this rebuilt arena still provided a heartening sense of that familiar Old Trafford spirit around its network of tunnels and byways, still awash with bars and pumps and pint glasses.
Michael Clarke tackled an unfamiliar batting position, reset Australia's floundering campaign and stood up to his own words - finding a way to get through the tough periods - during an innings that began uncertainly but became anything but. Simon Hughes in the Telegraph picks out the ease with which he nullified the Graeme Swann threat.
Slowly he remembered his steps: the stride back on to his stumps to play the turning delivery late, the shimmy up the pitch to caress, rather than crunch, the ball through extra cover against the spin. As his muscle-memory rebooted, his footwork became silky and his timing sublime. His range of movement - right back or two yards down the pitch - upset Swann's rhythm and forced him to try round the wicket. Clarke bunted him back over his head, the field scattered and Swann went back over the wicket. Now Clarke had control and the runs began to flow.
Michael Vaughan, in his column for the same paper states his distrust of Hot Spot and offers a few improvements to the present application of DRS
Hot Spot is frustrating everyone at the moment. I am not sure how reliable it is. We all want to feel we are moving closer to getting more decisions right but this week the inventor of Hot Spot admitted it misses a few edges. That cannot be right. Perhaps we can use it in combination with the Snicko to make the system more accurate. Overall I believe DRS is good for the game. It has moved cricket forward and we are getting more right decisions now. But we have to make sure the people who operate the system know the job.
It speaks volumes of Australia's batting in this Ashes series that, after four innings, Ashton Agar, an unknown entity before his heroics at Trent Bridge, is their leading run-scorer with 130. Mike Selvey, writing for The Guardian, cheekily hints that Australia may have to bring in an unlikely source from their camp to get the runs for the team.
At Worcester, before the Ashes series started, Darren Lehmann donned his whites (or those of someone else) and a Baggy Green and carried the drinks out for his team, a spirit-lifter but getting a small buzz, you can believe, from being back in the mix. Then at Hove last week he went one better and put on the pads, Boof having a biff in the nets. It looked like someone in genuine love with the game, and by all accounts he looked OK, having a bit of fun because he could. Except that with it came the realisation that with the exception of Michael Clarke he was, with 82 first‑class hundreds as a credential and five of them in Tests, and the technique and nous that goes with them, probably still the most accomplished batsman in the party, not too dissimilar to England nets when Ottis Gibson was the England bowling coach shortly after taking 100 wickets in a season for Durham.
Ian Bell, on the other hand, has had a good Ashes so far, scoring two hundreds and a fifty in his four innings. In an interview with Donald McRae, in the same paper, Bell explains why his century at Trent Bridge was superior to his 109 at Lord's.
"Scoring a hundred at Lord's is always special but the conditions at Trent Bridge made it the better knock. It was quite testing. As a middle-order batter, the hardest thing is to start against spin or reverse swing and when I came in it was reversing a long way. I'd improved after playing in subcontinental conditions and, after the series in India in the winter, I tried to put that into my game. The Aussies all reversed it and did it very well. They swung it both ways and it was very difficult. Lord's was a much more traditional English swingy day - a bit more what we're used to - but a reversing ball at Trent Bridge made it all the more challenging. And to have scored a hundred in one of the best ever Tests means a lot."