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Paul Edwards at Old Trafford
April 21, 2014
Warwickshire 316 for 9 (Porterfield 77, Bell 75, Chopra 52, Smith 4-67) lead Lancashire 247 by 69 runs
Forget, for a moment, that Ian Bell plays for England. County cricket is relevant in its own right, not merely as some sort of massive academy for the national side. It is perfectly possible to consider Bell's fine 75 on the second day of the game against Lancashire simply in the context of this match and not as some sort of preparation for future examinations.
Coming to the wicket with his team well-placed on 144 for 2, Bell made a substantial contribution to his side taking a 69-run lead with one wicket left to fall in this well-contested match. In doing so, he produced a gem of an innings, a 162-ball master-class generously sprinkled with fine shots in both defence and attack.
Michael Henderson once wrote about the aesthetic satisfaction to be derived from watching Mark Ramprakash play a forward defensive shot, and it is possible to be similarly enriched by some of Bell's strokeplay. There were fine drives aplenty and a trademark six over long-on off Simon Kerrigan, but there were also carefully calibrated pushes and deflections, each of them enjoyable in its own right as a tiny piece of craftsmanship.
At such moments it was not only possible to forget that Bell plays Test cricket; one could also forget the little matter of his allegiance, and simply savour the artistry.
It is important to remember Bell's innings because, by the end of the day, his effort had been a trifle overshadowed by an excellent response from Lancashire's seamers, who took five wickets for 47 runs in ten overs in the final session and keep Warwickshire's lead within the realm of the manageable.
That fightback was led by Tom Smith, who had both Tim Ambrose and Chris Woakes caught behind by Buttler in successive overs and finished the day with 4 for 67. Wayne White's contribution in bringing one back off the seam to uproot Bell's leg stump and then having Jeetan Patel caught at the wicket was also invaluable. By the end of the day Lancashire's players could anticipate a parity which had seemed rather unlikely in the first two sessions of play.
For himself, Bell, who is currently Warwickshire's stand-in captain, would certainly place his own innings in the context of the game and pay tribute to the work of openers Varun Chopra and William Porterfield, whose 127-run partnership for the first wicket laid secure groundwork for the construction of their sizeable total.
The openers had more than doubled their side's overnight score when Porterfield rather gave his innings away by driving Kerrigan loosely to Wayne White at mid-off. This was a shame, not least because he had played well, especially when dismissively pulling James Anderson into a building site for six.
Following Porterfield's departure for 77, his first Championship fifty since May 2012, Chopra made his way carefully towards lunch and had very nearly achieved his immediate objective when trapped on the crease by Chapple for 52.
That, as both players and the public address announcer Matt Procter recognised, was Chapple's 900th first-class wicket for Lancashire. He became the 15th Lancastrian to achieve the feat, the first of any type to do so since Jack Simmons and the first seamer since Ken Higgs.
By the end of the day Chapple's tally was 901, meaning that he had equalled the total achieved by left-arm spinner Cecil Parkin, a clown-prince of a bowler who used to croon the 1920s favourites Tea for Two or Lily of Laguna as he made his way back to his mark. One rather doubts that Chapple sings at all as he trudges through his fine spells; were he to do so, though one certainly can't believe that they would be much like the genial ditties beloved of dear old Cec.
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