England v India, 2nd npower Test, Trent Bridge, 3rd day July 31, 2011

Bell at his best leaves India gasping

While England displayed all the traits of a world-beating outfit at Trent Bridge, Ian Bell played what was arguably his best innings at the highest level, the run-out controversy notwithstanding

If England go on and secure the world No. 1 ranking, which is now looking increasingly likely, this could be the day where the baton was handed over. There are moments when a team just looks at the top of their game. The final day at Lord's was one and this time, controversy aside, it was the England batsmen - some out of position - who played with the aggression, flair and confidence that is the hallmark of the best.

Leading it all was Ian Bell. Moved back up to No. 3 due to Jonathan Trott's shoulder injury he responded with his most commanding Test century and first in that position. It felt like the coming of age for someone who has always had the technical game for Test cricket but question-marks hanging over his mental ability.

In truth those questions have been answered emphatically over the last 18 months where, firstly at No. 6 then at No. 5 following Paul Collingwood's retirement, he has become England's middle-order banker. He has given the batting line-up solidity and style. So to say this hundred was career-defining does a disservice to some of his other innings in recent times.

"I'd really not thought about it being a hundred at No. 3 until I'd come off having just moved up through injury," he said. "It was nice to score a hundred in this situation regardless of whether it's three or five, under a bit of pressure with us wanting to get back into the game and it's right up there with hundreds I've scored."

Bell often singles out the match-saving 78 he made in Cape Town in early 2010, against Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, as the moment he knew he had cracked the Test game. That followed a fine century in the previous Test in Durban when his place had been on the line following a string of failed promises with the bat. He has shown, like many others in this team, that a bit of well-placed belief from the management can go a long way.

Yet, this innings did feel different. It was the most dominant display in a game where runs have been at a premium. Rahul Dravid's hundred was a supreme effort, but he had to graft for long periods; VVS Laxman shone but was cut short after fifty and Yuvraj Singh sparkled but wasn't convincing against pace. Bell's was a complete Test innings.

He hit his stride early and never looked back. A mark of how well he played was that at the start of the day the suggestion was that Bell would have to make 'ugly' runs and the innings would test someone known for his elegant batting. However, Bell didn't even need to get ugly. The pitch was easier, but it was still one where the bowlers should have had an edge. The way Praveen Kumar made one bounce from a good length, for the second time in the match, to remove Jonathan Trott showed that.

It makes it a greater shame, therefore, that the innings will always come with a footnote about his run-out-turned-reinstatement at tea. Bell admitted he was "naïve" in how he put himself into the situation, but hoped it won't be why people talk about his innings in years to come. Considering he had 137 when the controversy erupted it isn't an unreasonable thought.

"I've got to take some blame, it was a bit stupid," he said. "But no doubt, I think it was one of the best innings I've played. I really admire this India team, they are ranked No. 1 and have some world-class players, and it's a massive contest. It would be nice if the innings could be remembered for being a good hundred against a very good team and something that's helping us set up a Test."

He has certainly put England in a wonderful position. Today they carved 417 runs in 90 overs - research suggests it's the first time they have scored more than 400 in a day since Edgbaston 2005 - and even taking into account Harbhajan Singh's stomach injury, which left India a bowler down for the second Test running, it was a staggering way to take hold of what had until then been a nip-and-tuck contest. India's batting is good enough to still make a game of it, but there were signs that England had landed some telling psychological blows especially during the final session which yielded 187 runs.

On the first two days the impact of the respective lower-orders was highlighted for their potential significance in the Test (and series). When Trott, batting at No. 7 due to his injury, was caught at slip the lead was 272. If India could have done a similar demolition job that England, or rather Stuart Broad, managed on the second evening they could have been chasing under 320. Tough, but not impossible.

Instead they now have the prospect of something well over 400 where the previous best on the ground is 284 for 6. Matt Prior plundered an unbeaten 64 off 55 balls against a weary attack, and his impact on England is becoming more Gilchrist-esque by the innings.

"The way KP played, Morgan, and then Matt Prior and Bresnan at the end, there's so much pressure on the bowlers," Bell said. "When you've been in the field a long time and you see those guys coming out to play the way they did, it's tough. Prior was exceptional and is probably the worst bloke in world cricket to see walking in when you've been fielding for 90 overs."

On the opening two days England clung on by fighting back in the last session, but the strongest teams know when a match is there for the taking. Their current opponents are trying desperately to cling onto their No. 1 tag but the challengers are looking primed to make their move.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • joel on August 1, 2011, 16:41 GMT

    Hes definetly the best stroke player in the side , and the speed in which he reached his century was amazing . Especially because at that moment Indias bowlers were on top , and to be fair to the india quicks they have contributed more than there batsmen have . Ian Bell has it in him now to power on to greatness

  • Dummy4 on August 1, 2011, 16:40 GMT

    It is rank bad sportsmanship on England's part to select 11 players that are not old, fat or useless.

  • Shehan on August 1, 2011, 16:04 GMT

    While India is struggling in England they have slipped to third position in the ODI icc rankings and Sri Lanka has overtaken India to secure 2nd position.

  • Al on August 1, 2011, 14:00 GMT

    Dhoni did a wonderful thing and at the end fates played out some sort of balance to the whole affair as Bell who played his best knock ever couldnt add mutch more than 20 odd runs. Someone ought to send an SMS to Brendon McCullum and ask him to kindly reverse poor Murali's run out when the wizard walked out of his crease to congragulate his captain Sangakarra who had made a century at the other end. And while we are at it why not reverse all other such incidents and decide those matches on a Duckworth / Lewis 'Dhoni' rev ?

  • David on August 1, 2011, 12:45 GMT

    in this match... im rooting for ENGLAAAAAND

  • Srinivas on August 1, 2011, 12:36 GMT

    Very well played Bell. What a knock with complete domination. If Dravid's century was a masterclass in grafting and dominating at the opportune moment with utmost technical superiority, then this century is a masterclass in dominating with supremely correct technique right from the word go. Remember, I took his name in one of my posts along with Kallis, Hanif and Dravid? I'm glad he made it to three figures under pressure. What a knock! Supreme! Test cricket needs players like Bell. I hope he improves his overall record and record against some opponents. He deserves a much better record than what he has now. Good luck to both the teams and thanks a million for this wonderful cricket.

  • Rajul on August 1, 2011, 10:36 GMT

    Really good to read that Straussy and Flower came begging to the Indian camp for a reversal of a decision...pretty immature act by Bell and Strauss....I am really surprised that even after all those vaseline and jelly bean incidents the english camp still had guts to request India for a reversal.... After this begging incidence in caps I would say that "ENGLAND DESERVES NO 1 SPOT IN TEST CRICKET" HA HA HA....

  • Dru on August 1, 2011, 10:12 GMT

    Bell really is a pleasure to watch and surely must be in the one day team for Eng with Prior- I cant understand how Trott and Cook play ahead of Bell. I recall Bell's debut against Warne in those dark days and what a player he has turned out be in recent times. Sure his knock was critical yesteraday but what about Prior! All the good work from the top order would have meant little unless Prior was able to hold things togeather to get lead over 300 and now probably well over 400. These two guys really do add some serious muscle to the already impressive top order and with the Indian batting being found wanted, is surely the best batting line up in the world.

  • Anver on August 1, 2011, 9:47 GMT

    Well played !!! nice time to bring his 1st century as no.3......Eng is in commanding position in this test & a target of over 400 in the last innings is a very tough ask for Ind !!!!!

  • Paul on August 1, 2011, 9:40 GMT

    Friday we were told "Bowlers are undercooked" last night we are told "they are all tired from West Indies" @raunakwakode81185... If you think 22 runs (scored a lot slower than the batsmen who followed Bell) is going to change the series you are deluded. India will lose because England are a far better side..it's as simple as that.

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