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July 11, 2008
Ian Bell became the seventh batsman, and first Englishman, to fall for 199 in Tests, but the most commanding innings of his career cemented England's dominance at Lord's as they piled up 593 for 8. Bell and Kevin Pietersen, who turned his emotional hundred from yesterday into 152, carried their fourth-wicket stand to a record-breaking 286. He then joined forces with the ever-improving Stuart Broad to add 152 for the eighth wicket as Broad oozed class in his career-best 76.
Graeme Smith and Neil McKenzie played out 20 balls before another heavy shower forced the players off for a final time, but after two days of leather chasing South Africa now have the challenge of saving the game. They are facing England's highest total since their 604 against South Africa, at The Oval in 2003, and the demand in recent times has been for England's batsmen to score big hundreds. Although Bell fell agonisingly short of the precious double, when he clubbed a straight drive back to Paul Harris, it meant an England innings included two 150-plus scores for the first time since Adelaide in 2006.
Bell's performance on the first day secured his long-term position, but it was important that he converted into three figures and beyond. He hadn't done it in the first innings of a Test since West Indies at Lord's last year, and even then England were in a commanding position before he came in. Here it was different and he came through under pressure. The stroke play was silky and confident as he reached his century off 189 balls.
If anything, Bell's shots became even purer during the afternoon as the played with the freedom of someone who'd proved a point. He danced down the pitch to Harris and drove the quicks with nonchalant ease through the covers, cruising past 150. Bell's previous career-best of 162 came way back in his third Test, against Bangladesh, and he finally managed to set a new mark against a far more testing opponent. In the latter stages of his innings he was strutting around the crease, bringing out reverse sweeps. He won't be making way for Andrew Flintoff.
England scored at a rollicking rate throughout the day, adding 113 runs in each of the first two sessions as the much-vaunted South African attack was made to look ordinary. The only exception was Morne Morkel, surprisingly overlooked for the first hour, who removed Pietersen and Tim Ambrose either side of lunch, but others lacked direction and control. Smith struggled to stem the flow of boundaries until he opted for all-out defence and got Harris to bowl over the wicket outside leg stump.
The moment for South Africa to haul themselves back into contention passed during the first hour. With the second new ball only nine overs old there was the opportunity first thing to make life tough for England. Instead Steyn offered Bell a second-ball leg-stump half volley and it set the tone for the session. Some deliveries were sprayed so wide that they eluded the diving Boucher.
Pietersen was in commanding form and he left Smith chasing the game. He toyed with Smith's field settings, taking balls from outside off stump through the leg side as he passed 150, for the fifth time in Tests, off 176 balls. He offered one tough chance, a firmly-driven return catch on 133 which Jacques Kallis couldn't gather in his follow through.
Eventually Morkel got a bouncer on target to break a stand of 286, the highest fourth-wicket partnership against South Africa in Tests. It brought in Collingwood, under strain for many reasons - most immediately his recent Test form - but he was given out caught at short leg against Harris. It was a rough decision, the ball coming straight off the pad to Hashim Amla, and Collingwood's expression as he walked off was of a man who feels the world is against him.
South Africa struck again straight after lunch when Ambrose came half forward and edged Morkel low to Smith at first slip. Morkel again showed the way in the length to bowl, but his colleagues couldn't back him up. Broad's batting has been one of the most significant developments of this England side and he comfortably dealt with the South African attack. The leg side was a profitable area as he showed elegant timing against pace and spin. He reached his second consecutive Test fifty with a back-foot drive off Ntini that would have done a No. 4 proud.
Thoughts were turning towards the possibility of a century, yet to his credit Broad never stopped playing positively for the team cause. That brought his down fall when he missed a drive against Harris, but his 76 was the highest score by an England No. 8 since Craig White made 85 at the MCG in 2002-03. Now he needs to play his part with the ball as England try to make their imposing total count. The first two days of this series couldn't have gone much better for them.
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?