Warwickshire 284 for 9 (Bell 70, Ambrose 76*, Wiese 4-50) v Sussex
Kent start 2018 season with a collapse
With the rain cleared almost everywhere, catch up with how the county championship got underway for most of the two divisions
It is centuries, not 70s, that grab the attention of selectors.
But on a day when only one other man could reach 30, Ian Bell provided a reminder of his considerable qualities with an innings of charm and substance to help his side to the brink of a third batting point in testing conditions. For a side that managed only 19 such points in the 2017 season - the fewest in either division - it represents a decent effort.
It is, you would have thought, too late for Bell to make a return to England's Test side. He is 36 now and, while it is probably true that he has never been satisfactorily replaced, selectors tend to look to younger men for solutions. Whoever the new head selector turns out to be - it is understood Mick Newell is in the final two and a decision will be announced in the next few days - it will probably require a barrage of three-figure scores from Bell if he is to convince them to look beyond the likes of Joe Clarke and Liam Livingstone.
But context is important. And, in conditions where the ball moved in the air and off the pitch, Bell demonstrated the technique and temperament to flourish against an attack containing India's Ishant Sharma. Tim Ambrose, who was badly missed in the slips when he had five, was the only other man to pass 25.
It is easy to be seduced by Bell in such form. The cover drives he unfurled off Stuart Whittingham, a fast bowler with a hint of Dale Steyn about him, and the on drives he pushed off Ollie Robinson were the sort to have spectators purring with pleasure. And while it is true he did not hit any of his 14 boundaries off Sharma (he took six off Robinson and five off Whittingham), Bell played him off relatively comfortably. As David Wiese put it: "He looked as if he was batting on a completely different wicket."
The selectors would have loved Bell to have given them an excuse to pick him for the Ashes tour. But a campaign that produced just 596 runs (at an average of 25.91), without a century, gave them little opportunity. He did look more fluent than at any time last year, however, and will have noted the struggles of James Vince to cement a position. It might also be noted that he started the first-class season with a century - albeit against Durham MCCU - which is more than he managed last year.
Perhaps more pertinently, he also gave Warwickshire a strong platform in a game that, weather permitting, could yet prove intriguing. Despite all the talk of a new era at Edgbaston, it was notable that it was two men in their mid-30s who provide the bulk of the runs. Ambrose, out of form at the end of the season, also produced an innings of character against his old club, but was honest enough to admit afterwards that Bell's innings was "a class above" anything else on show.
But for Ambrose and Bell, Warwickshire would surely have struggled to register even a single bonus point. With Sharma bowling beautifully - hitting a nagging line and length and nipping the ball around - and Wiese jumping wide of the crease, angling the ball in and gaining sharp movement away, batting was desperately tough for the first half of the day. Will Rhodes shaped up nicely but edge to slip, Dominic Sibley was caught behind trying to withdraw the bat and Jonathan Trott was beaten by a beauty that drew the stroke and left him sharply. With Adam Hose playing across one, Sam Hain leaving another and Bell finally undone by one that drew the stroke but nipped away to take the edge, Warwickshire were 147 for six and in some trouble.
But Sussex will kick themselves for their errors. Not only did the dropped chance - it was Harry Finch, at slip, who put down Ambrose off Wiese - prove crucial, but they donated 16 runs from no-balls and 12 from wides. In a low-scoring contest, that could prove defining. Both Chris Jordan, who helped bowl Warwickshire out for 87 here four years ago in similar conditions, and Jofra Archer, who are currently non-playing members of their IPL sides, were sorely missed.
As it was, Ambrose led the way as Warwickshire added an unbroken 62 for the tenth-wicket with the obdurate Chris Wright. Now aged 35 and one of many Warwickshire men to find himself out of contract at the end of the season, this is a big year for Ambrose. But he has shown, again and again, that he relishes such situations and whoever Warwickshire bring in as his successor - they are sure to be in the market for another keeper - may face a year or two on the sidelines yet.