Bell makes fine-tuned fifty
Warwickshire 175 for 3 (Bell 57) v Sussex
Seven of the last 12 days of scheduled cricket at Edgbaston had been complete washouts, including four days of international cricket, so in a summer in which spectators have been grateful for any entertainment, the 65 overs possible before another wet weather front announced its arrival were well received, not least because they contained more evidence of the wonderful form in which England's Ian Bell currently finds himself.
The only disappointment was that it amounted only to 57 runs, ending unexpectedly with a mistimed pull that went straight to the fielder at midwicket. The ball before had been driven past mid-off with superb timing, bringing him his 10th boundary, but Steve Magoffin, Sussex's Australian seamer, then served up a shorter delivery, effectively a long hop. It should have been despatched but perhaps Bell was taken a little by surprise.
Nonetheless, Bell had served his own purpose, which was to keep himself ticking over ahead of next week's opening Test against South Africa. After a run of six scores of 53 or above in eight innings, including the brilliant 126 at the start of the one-day series against West Indies, he has hardly looked a batsman in need of practice and was given the option to miss this match, in common with his clubmate, Jonathan Trott, who chose to rest.
But Bell took the view that form against the white ball is not necessarily the same as form against the red ball and decided to play, which was all the more commendable given that his wife, Chantal, who is expecting their first child, had a morning appointment to undergo a routine ultrasound scan that he also wanted to attend. In the event, aided by a 12 noon start, he was able to do both.
"It's all down the individual, whatever gets you in the right frame of mind for a Test match," he said. "With the weather we have had it is good to get any time in the middle. I have been feeling in good nick and I just want to keep that going.
"I've never felt that nets give me the best preparation for a Test match. I don't know whether that makes me a bit old school but I always feel that if I can get 50 in the middle it gets me in a better place than a hundred nets. If we go to The Oval and we have to train indoors, say, at least I've got this under my belt.
"It was a bit of a scramble getting here. I didn't arrive on the ground until half an hour before the start and Jim Troughton was ready to go in at three if necessary. But Ashley Giles and Jim were brilliant. They said to take all the time I needed and slot in where I could, but it worked out well in the end."
It took Bell a while, in the event, to shake off his one-day instincts, as Monty Panesar discovered when his erstwhile England colleague went down the pitch to him twice in his first few deliveries. Panesar had been bowling well, as he has for much of the season, and it looked as though Bell wanted to take an aggressive approach, perhaps to knock the left-armer out of his rhythm.
In fact, Bell had to fight against himself, to rein himself in, but it did make for entertaining viewing and Panesar's figures took something of a hit as a result.
Troughton, as captain, would have been pleased to be 175 for 3. His decision to bat first, given that the field has taken so much water, looked to be a slight gamble, but Varun Chopra and Will Porterfield batted sensibly and had put on 66 before the latter, looking well set, was leg before to Panesar, playing back to a ball that skidded through the rough.
James Anyon and Naved Arif Gondal struggled with their line for Sussex but Magoffin was dangerous and Panesar tight and challenging. He had Chopra well tied down at one stage and claimed him as his second victim just after lunch. Chopra seemed unhappy with umpire Steve Gale's leg before verdict, perhaps thinking he was too well forward, but these days the benefit of the doubt is less readily awarded.