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July 14, 2006
Bell was on 97 when Harmison was run out, but Monty Panesar showed a straight bat to survive six balls before Bell scampered the final single. Andrew Strauss declared the moment Bell reached three figures and Harmison exploited a patched-up Pakistan top three. His line wasn't at its best, but for one over he found his range. After Salman Butt fell to a conventional edge Harmison unleashed a fierce lifter which was spectacularly pouched at third slip. It was a lesson in catching for Pakistan, from ironically a team that dropped nine last time they played a Test at this ground.
There is never a good time to fail in a Test, but a low score here for Bell could have had serious long-term effects. Andrew Flintoff is expected back for the second match at Old Trafford, while Collingwood and Alastair Cook have cemented their places for the long haul. Bell had no option but to show his presence in the only way that matters - runs on the board.
He didn't have to wait long to enter the fray as Mohammad Sami uprooted Cook's offstump with the new ball to end a record fourth-wicket stand of 233. Bell's nervous tension was clear with a leaden-footed poke at his first ball, which scurried to third man, but unlike last summer against the Australians he played it with soft, rather than hard, hands.
With their early wicket, Pakistan were only one more strike away from getting a second chance and rattling through England. However, as with the opening exchanges yesterday, Sami and Umar Gul wasted the new ball and offered Bell a series of legstump sighters which went through square leg. Within the blink of an eye Bell was in the twenties at a run-a-ball and Pakistan had missed their prime opportunity.
Inzamam-ul-Haq turned to his spinners, but surprisingly it was Shahid Afridi given the first crack and he was promptly pulled for two fours by Collingwood, who had raced past his previous best of 134, made against India at Nagpur in March. That was, for the large part, a backs-to-the-wall effort, but this was an expansive and aggressive Collingwood that showed his development at Test level.
Bell has rarely exuded outward confidence at the top level, but had been settled by his brisk start and was by no means a silent partner as the century was brought up in the first session. However, Pakistan made it harder for the batsmen after the interval and just 69 runs came between lunch and tea. Bell and Collingwood took few chances - aware of the flimsy batting in the pavilion - while Pakistan didn't actively hunt for wickets although Kaneria's flight and bounce created a fascinating passage of play.
Collingwood lost his momentum before being beaten by a perfect legbreak and when Geraint Jones and Liam Plunkett left quickly Bell was with the tail. He played a couple of delicate late cuts but never departed from the orthodox technique that he is known for. Nerves would have jangled when Panesar strode to the middle, but he has history of guiding players to hundreds. He impressively partnered Collingwood at Nagpur to an equally important century and the England balcony looked more nervous than him.
England have done everything right so far and have found their Test-match groove. But this match continues to bear an uncanny resemblance to Sri Lanka's visit here back in May. England blew their chance on that occasion and must learn from that and nail Pakistan while they are down.
England - overnight 309 for 3
Alastair Cook b Sami 105 (321 for 4)
Caught on the crease, ball swung back between bat and pad to hit offstump
Paul Collingwood st Akmal b Kaneria 186 (441 for 5)
Drawn down the track, beaten by turn, comfortable stumping
Geraint Jones lbw b Kaneria 18 (469 for 6)
Sweeping the googly, hit on back leg, taking top of legstump
Liam Plunkett c Farhat b Kaneria 0 (473 for 7)
Edged full ball to slip
Matthew Hoggard lbw b Afridi 13 (515 for 8)
Quicker ball, hitting middle
Steve Harmison run out (Yousuf) 2 (525 for 9)
Beaten coming back for a second to deep midwicket
Salman Butt c Strauss b Harmison 10 (28 for 1)
Thick edge to second slip
Faisal Iqbal c Collingwood b Harmison 0 (28 for 2)
Sharp lifter, gloved to third slip, salmon-like leap to pluck ball out of the air
Imran Farhat b Plunkett 33 (65 for 3)
Nipped back, no shot offered
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of CricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
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