The Friday Column August 24, 2007

Bell blossoms, and India's no-ball worries

Ian Bell's outstanding innings at Southampton against India suggests England might have found a stable No. 3batsman in ODIs



Ian Bell needs to show that he can consistently play the kind of innings he carved out against India at Southampton © Getty Images

In 45 previous ODI innings, Ian Bell had put together 11 scores between 50 and 100, but till he struck that magnificent unbeaten 126 against the Indians - his third Man-of-the-Match performance - at Southampton, there were plenty of doubts over his ability to play the kind of authoritative one-day innings that could win matches. His 118-ball knock had everything to silence the doubters: he was dominant from the start and hardly took time to settle, he hit enough boundaries (ten fours and a six) to show that he could find the gaps and pierce the infield, he hardly wasted any scoring opportunities (only 45 dot-balls), and he paced his knock quite beautifully - the first 36 runs took 46 deliveries, and the last 90 came in a mere 72.

Admittedly one glorious innings doesn't mean Bell has suddenly transformed into a great one-day batsman - the runs were scored on an excellent batting track against a less-than-incisive bowling attack - but the knock has surely proved that he could be the answer to England's search for a solid yet enterprising No. 3 in ODIs.

Bell's knock also allowed him entry into the 1500-run club, a mark that been breached by only 19 England batsmen before him. An average of nearly 38 means that Bell finds himself among the top England batsmen in terms of numbers - only five have a higher average, and all of them have been recognised as terrific one-day players. By no means can Bell be termed one yet, but the signs and skills he showed at the Rose Bowl will delight England's think-tank.

Highest averages for England in ODIs (at least 1500 runs)
Batsman ODIs Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Kevin Pietersen 53 2083 56.29 91.68 5/ 14
Nick Knight 100 3637 40.41 71.52 5/ 25
Neil Fairbrother 75 2092 39.47 72.06 1/ 16
Allan Lamb 122 4010 39.31 75.54 4/ 26
Robin Smith 71 2419 39.01 69.95 4/ 15
Ian Bell 48 1594 37.95 70.46 1/ 11
Marcus Trescothick 123 4335 37.37 85.21 12/ 21
Graeme Hick 120 3846 37.33 74.08 5/ 27
Graham Thorpe 82 2380 37.18 71.17 0/ 21
Graham Gooch 125 4290 36.98 61.88 8/ 23

Bell was a part of England's limp top-order batting during the World Cup, scoring just 211 runs at 26.37. Five of his eight innings were at No. 3, where his highest was 47. Critics were justified in suggesting that his - and the openers' - conservative approach at the top of the order was just what England didn't need, but Bell's overall numbers at No. 3 indicate he has done pretty well at that position: the average is healthy, though the strike-rate could do with some improvement. Still, Bell's stats stack up favourably against those of the likes of Ramnaresh Sarwan and Kumar Sangakkara.

Best No. 3 batsmen in ODIs since August 24, 2004 (at least 750 runs)
Batsman ODIs Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Jacques Kallis 44 1677 49.32 74.46 3/ 11
Ricky Ponting 75 3095 46.89 87.06 8/ 21
Mahela Jayawardene 25 790 41.57 83.86 2/ 2
Ian Bell 29 1029 38.11 70.00 1/ 6
Ramnaresh Sarwan 38 1207 37.71 68.77 0/ 10
Shoaib Malik 23 814 37.00 74.67 0/ 8
Kumar Sangakkara 41 1369 36.02 75.80 1/ 13
Aftab Ahmed 42 1098 28.89 91.72 0/ 8

The presence of Kevin Pietersen at No. 4 is a huge factor in England's one-day fortunes, and he's also the batsman Bell clearly loves to bat with. In 18 innings they average 56 runs per partnership, with eight stands of 50 or more.

Bell's best batting partners in ODIs
Partner Innings P'ship runs Average stand 100/ 50 p'ships
Kevin Pietersen 18 841 56.06 1/ 7
Andrew Strauss 18 759 42.16 2/ 4
Ed Joyce 11 382 34.72 1/ 2
Paul Collingwood 9 312 34.67 1/ 1

Bell isn't a naturally aggressive batsman who will bludgeon boundaries like a Pietersen, which is why he needs to work on the ability to rotate the strike and minimise the dot-balls. As the table below shows, his dot-ball percentage is 60, which is quite high in the modern one-day context. The high percentage can partially be explained by the fact that he is forced to come in early, when the Powerplays are on and the fielders are close to the bat, but that's a number he'll have to work on and reduce by a few percentage points.

Dot-ball factor for some of the leading middle-order batsmen since Aug 24, 2004
Batsman Total balls faced Dot-balls Dot-ball % Runs per over
Mahela Jayawardene 3465 1849 53.36 5.02
Herschelle Gibbs 2431 1331 54.75 5.04
Ricky Ponting 3505 1939 55.32 5.19
Jacques Kallis 2906 1630 56.09 4.32
Rahul Dravid 3906 2208 56.53 4.45
Ramnaresh Sarwan 2587 1490 57.60 4.45
Kumar Sangakkara 3844 2232 58.06 4.67
Ian Bell 2234 1344 60.16 4.24
The table includes all ODIs in the last three years except the first match of the CB Series between Australia and England at Melbourne on January 12, 2007. Bell scored 15 from 29 balls in that match.

The silver lining, or not quite?
In the general gloom of India's dismal performance with both bat and ball at the Rose Bowl, one important show of discipline went almost unnoticed - the Indian bowlers didn't bowl a single no-ball. It was the 39th time they achieved it in a completed innings of at least 50 overs, but of late this has been a very rare occurrence. In the last three years (from August 21, 2004) this was only the third time they managed it; the other two instances were against Pakistan at Delhi in 2005, which was also John Wright's last game as India's coach, and at Durban against South Africa last year. Given that they've lost all three matches by more than 100 runs - the margins at Delhi and Durban were more than 150 - Rahul Dravid might just suggest to his bowlers that they overstep a few times in the next match.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo