Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, 3rd day January 5, 2011

Bell finally ends quest for Ashes ton

Ian Bell has played some sublime innings on this tour, and after 18 Ashes Tests he has finally registered a hundred against Australia

It is typical of the manner in which Ian Bell's career has developed that his finest moment as an England cricketer should have been so monumentally overshadowed, first by his team-mate Alastair Cook and his gargantuan appetite for runs, and then by a controversy involving the Umpire Decision Review System. Nevertheless, when Bell punched Steven Smith through the covers to bring up his maiden Ashes hundred, it was the end of a quest that must have seemed never-ending.

Bell's batting at times in this series has been sublime. At Brisbane and Perth he scored a brace of half-centuries of such effortless poise that you wondered how and why the rest of the batsmen had failed to negotiate the conditions. But as England's designated No. 6, he found himself running out of partners on the few occasions he made it to the crease, and denied opportunities when the going was at its best, particularly at Adelaide, where his 68 not out was entirely overshadowed by a Kevin Pietersen double-century.

Finally, though, he has cracked it. After 11 half-centuries in 18 Ashes Tests, he has now converted to three figures and laid to rest the ghost of failures past, particularly those of his first full season as a Test batsman in 2005 when the intensity of that summer's incredible tussle was too great for such an inexperienced cricketer. In 10 visits to the crease he fell in single figures on seven occasions, and in the grandstand finale at The Oval, he finished with a first-ball duck and one of the most ignominious pairs of recent English history.

Bell has spent most of his career living down that initiation at the hands of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, much as England's batting coach, Graham Gooch, also struggled to establish himself after bagging a pair on debut against the might of Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson and Max Walker at Edgbaston in 1975. For a variety of reasons, including a run-out for 99 in Perth and a rebel tour of South Africa, he had to wait a full decade to record his first hundred against the Aussies. But it did not stop him forging an exceptional career.

"It's the best knock I've played in an England shirt against Australia, so it's a fantastic moment to get a hundred against Australia," said Bell. "I felt like I'd been in pretty good nick and good touch throughout the tour, and I felt I put it together. I put on a partnership with Cooky and then Matty Prior at the end, and it was really nice to build those partnerships as we have done all tour."

"It's been a great tour for our batting unit," he added. "I've done a great deal of watching the guys really tough it out against the new ball and cash in, so it's nice today to go on. At times we had to work pretty hard for our runs, because we were desperate to keep batting and working on our partnership. It wasn't about trying to be fluent, but keeping the momentum going. Every run counts for us in this innings. We want to score as many as we can."

Bell may consider himself fortunate to have been at the crease long enough to post three figures. On 67, he appeared to feather an edge through to Brad Haddin off the bowling of Shane Watson, and turned to the review system as a last resort, given that England had two chances left and no specialist batsmen left in the innings. The system worked in his favour on that occasion, and luck was also with him 17 runs later, when Smith spilled a sharp caught and bowled opportunity on 84.

But in the final analysis, Bell has earned his reward for a run of form that has led many to demand he moves up the England batting order, at least to Paul Collingwood's current berth at No. 5, and maybe even higher than that. "It's another tick on an already outstanding career," said Cook. "He's grown over the last 12 months into an outstanding batter, and his stats are phenomenal over the last year and a half. It's always nice getting those monkeys off your back, and you can always say 'I scored a hundred against Australia'. I think it will be the first of many."

"I've always thought he's been a good player," said Australia's captain, Michael Clarke, who has seen him at close quarters in each of his four Ashes campaigns. "He always had talent and he's come up against a couple of good bowlers in Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne throughout his career as well, which would have been very hard especially starting as a young player. He's had a really good series, he knows his game quite well and he's been able to execute that. Full credit to him."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Bryn on January 6, 2011, 3:25 GMT

    worst batsman ive ever seen still yet to make a100 against the mighty aus

  • Nathan on January 6, 2011, 1:13 GMT

    @5wombats - there was evidence! Enough evidence for the central umpire to give it out, and the 'technology' provided nothing to confirm or deny the accuracy of that decision. Bell got a ton and good luck to him, but he scored it after he was out and then reprieved by an umpiring mistake in reversing an intially correct decision ... if you don't consider that to be discredited circumstances then I don't think you're being realistic. lol @Stuart Brooking - no sour grapes in my mouth - England have been far too good and this incorrect decision was hardly going to change anything! The wheel has (finally!!) turned and well done to england ... but if you think all Australian fans are sitting around whining and moaning .. well, sorry to disappoint you. As for the crowd showing 'good sportsmanship' by not clapping, they clapped Cook cos he deserved it, Bell did not, and how can any pom talk about Aussie sportsmanship after english crowds booed Ponting all last series like puerile schoolkids?!

  • Alastair on January 5, 2011, 23:09 GMT

    I cannot believe Chappell wants Bell to bat at number 3. Firstly - you have J. Trott, who is currently one of the best first-drops in the world. Secondly, he was woeful at number 3, sure he was a different player when he batted there, but still. Collingwood announcing his retirement only means one thing for Bell and that is taking his number 5 position (which he averages over 60 at) and making the top 5 very imposing.

    I think there may be an argument, just like with Brad Haddin, to move Prior up to six and Broad coming back at seven and focusing a bit more on batting and becoming a more genuine batting-allrounder. Swann/Bresnan should bat eight and nine depending on the situation and the overs they have bowled, Tremlett ten and Anderson at eleven. This certainly gives the team a more all-round flavour and more bowling options (particularly with the retirement of Collingwood) and gives the quicks more rest during the course of fielding.

  • Benjamin on January 5, 2011, 22:29 GMT

    @Sat Matharu he he I kind of agree with your comments there. I'm still not convinced just yet. 18 months of good form doesn't make a career. That said it's not the way you start but the way you finish. If he continues his career in this fashion he'll finish as a very fine player no doubt.

    What I do find amusing is that the people going in to bat for him now saying he's the best thing since sliced bread are the same ones who were calling for him to never play for England again only 2 years ago. A fickle bunch to be sure.

    I've seen a lot of his cricket and I'm still not convinced. He was horrid against Warne and Co and despite his class he leaves a huge gap between bat and pad just like his non dismissal yesterday. Good bowlers will exploit that and he's been bowled or LBW through that gate a lot.

    I saw his ton in SA last year which was a great knock, yesterday was pretty good with a little luck against a rubbish attack on its knees. He's on the right path though, time will tell.

  • Martin on January 5, 2011, 20:52 GMT

    "Australianism," wrote John Arlott, "means single-minded determination to win - to win within the laws but, if necessary, to the last limit within them........" Note; "TO THE LAST LIMIT WITHIN THEM". That is all that is happening here with the "Hughes incident" and the "Bell incedent". Thank you @landl47; for reminding our friends about the "Hussey incident" - which was nailed on OUT no argument.

  • Dummy4 on January 5, 2011, 19:08 GMT

    Sat Matharu - if the jury is stil out for you, there's no hope for you. Bell is a classy batsman who is delightful to watch. He is now also making important innings for England. I think you are now in a minority in saying he hasn't shaken off the tag of performing on the back of other players' deeds. This idea has veen well and truly buried over the last 18 months when he has played crucial innings against top teams to save or win games for England. There is a stubborn and very vocal minority who cling to their views about Bell against all the evidence. Here in Australia, coming in at 6 after a very out of form Collingwood, and twice coming in at 7 because of the nwm, he has been top scorer twice, and was well on course for centuries at Brisbane and Adelaide if he hadn't run out of partners or run out of time as England declared.

    Very well done Bell, a century against Australia at last, and very well deserved!

  • Keith on January 5, 2011, 18:49 GMT

    Congratulations to Ian Bell! I've been a fan of his virtually from the outset, and have sometimes been bemused by the constant put-downs he's had by many, despite forging a good career. Of course, even this hundred will be questioned by people for a variety reasons - unfortunately, that seems to be his lot in life. But the century was fully deserved, and I'm very, very happy for him.

  • Dummy4 on January 5, 2011, 18:24 GMT

    Trott 3. Bell 4. Pietersen 5. Morgan 6.


  • Mainuddin on January 5, 2011, 17:40 GMT

    Ian Bell is far better than any batsman in the Australian team. He has an impeccable technique. And he is a very elegant and classy player. The most eye-pleasing player since Brian Lara. Fully deserved his 100 and Australia have been destroyed.

  • Martin on January 5, 2011, 17:31 GMT

    @Sat Matharu ; Rubbish - utter rubbish.

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