Bell shines as England squander a good start
Ian Bell's patience, control and the ease with which he handled the spinners during his 78 was the highlight of England's innings on a laidback first day against CCI President's XI in Mumbai. A lower-middle order collapse wasted the fine platform laid by half-centuries from Andrew Strauss and Michael Vaughan as England were dismissed for 299.
Several England players stressed the importance of playing the patient game on the subcontinent and Bell applied those principles well and was easily the most comfortable against the three spinners on show. England had lost Strauss and Vaughan either side of the lunch break (114 for 3), and had two new batsmen in Bell and Kevin Pietersen at the crease. Bell started nervously but gradually grew solid without ever imposing himself on the proceedings. He nudged and pushed the singles and rotated the strike to get settled. His caution at the start paid off and he broke free with a back-foot drive through cover for four and a pull over midwicket off Munish Ansari. Soon he was cutting and driving the spinners with ease and was especially harsh on anything short from the medium pacers. He reached his fifty with a pulled four over midwicket and his lofted, straight hit against the left-arm spin of Hitshu Bachani caused journalists to scramble for cover in the press box. He tried to repeat the shot next ball but was beaten by the spin and was stumped.
Bell's innings came after Vaughan, who had no hesitation in choosing to bat, and Strauss had batted aggressively to add 102 runs for the second wicket. They fought through the initial rustiness after Matt Prior, the replacement opener for the indisposed Marcus Trescothick, played on to Rajesh Verma for a duck (1 for 1). Both Verma and Abid Nabi tested the batsmen, beating the bat repeatedly, but it was Nabi, with his appreciable lift off the pitch at a sharp pace, who was particularly impressive. He bowled five maidens in six overs and it was strange that Nilesh Kulkarni deployed nine bowlers in all but didn't use his opening pair until late in the day.
Strauss survived a couple of play-and-misses but broke free with three consecutive boundaries off Verma's fourth over. He soon began to find his touch and stroked the ball freely while Vaughan edged and missed in his battle to get set. Nabi conceded just nine runs in six overs, eight to Vaughan through streaky boundaries but once he and Verma were taken off, the sluice gates opened. Wilkin Mota and Swapnil Hazare bowled far too short and they were carted for boundaries as Kshemal Waingainkar bowled an incisive spell from the Pavilion end. Strauss unleashed a flurry of cuts, pulls and drives and spared himself the task of running in hot conditions. But a small rut where his frenetic pace dropped proved costly and Waingainkar cleaned him up with one that straightened.
Vaughan reached his fifty soon after lunch by hitting Bachani for six over long off but soon became Waingankar's second wicket, edging behind on 54. Kevin Pietersen started circumspectly but muscled the odd boundary. He struggled while playing the sweep to Bachani and soon departed, playing on to Munish Ansari. A smattering of spectators gave Andrew Flintoff a rousing ovation and he obliged them with a straight hit down the ground before holing out to mid-on.
With England's power-hitters failing, Bell forged a 60-run stand with Paul Collingwood for the sixth wicket. Bell's rash dismissal preceded a procession - Waingainkar bowled Geraint Jones, Ian Blackwell succumbed to Bachani's spin and Abid Nabi returned to pick up the well-deserved wicket of Matthew Hoggard. Collingwood was left stranded on 47 as England were bowled out in just under 90 overs for 299.
Matt Prior b Rajesh Verma 0 (1 for 1)
Bowled off the inside edge.
Andrew Strauss b Kshemal Waigankar 51 (103 for 2)
Missed one that straightened a bit
Michael Vaughan c Samant b Waigankar 54 (114 for 3)
Edged a straight delivery
Kevin Pietersen b Munish Ansari 26 (156 for 4)
Chopped one on to his stumps
Andrew Flintoff c Vinit Indulkar b Aniket Redkar 20 (203 for 5)
Straight to mid-on
Ian Bell st Vinayak Samant b Hitshu Bachani 78 (263 for 6)
Charged down the track and was beaten by spin
Geraint Jones c Amol Muzumdar b Kshemal Waingankar 1 (265 for 7)
Edged to slip
Ian Blackwell c Sahil Kukreja b Hitshu Bachani 1 (271 for 8)
Popped a catch to short leg
Matthew Hoggard b Abid Nabi 3 (280 for 9)
Played down the wrong line
Monty Panesar run out Wilkin Mota 3 (299)
George Binoy is editorial assistant of Cricinfo