England v Australia, 1st Investec Test, Trent Bridge, 4th day July 13, 2013

Hundred was Ashes best - Bell


Ian Bell rated his century his "best Ashes innings" after helping England into a strong position going into the final day at Trent Bridge.

Bell, playing his fifth Ashes series, contributed 109 to help set Australia a target of 311 to win the first Investec Test. While it was Bell's second successive century in Ashes Tests - he also made one at Sydney in early 2011 - he admitted that the context of this game, coming when his side were under pressure and helping to set-up a match-defining position, rendered it his most valuable and satisfying.

His record in Ashes cricket has been modest. Going into this series he averaged 32.36 against Australia in 18 Tests. But, crediting the benefits of recent experiences in subcontinental conditions, he negated a slow, low pitch and an attack generating reverse swing to steer his side from a precarious position to one of some dominance. England were only 66 runs ahead when they lost their fourth wicket but, by the time Bell departed, the lead had been stretched to 306. On a surface on which no Test side has ever scored 300 to win a Test, it was a vital contribution.

"Certainly it's my best Ashes innings," Bell said. "It was nice to put an innings together when the team needed it most.

"The wicket was pretty slow, obviously reverse swing has played a massive part in this game so to use my skills to get us a decent lead on this pitch is very satisfying.

"This wicket is quite close to a subcontinent wicket. I've played a lot of subcontinent cricket in last 12 or 18 months, so batting in such conditions is something we've had to work out.

"I was disappointed with my performance in my first Ashes series [in 2005 when Bell averaged only 17.10] when I was a young lad. I always wanted to score as many runs as possible. You want to win Ashes series and be part of successful teams. But it's not all about individual stuff; it's about being part of a team."

That team ethic was apparent as England weathered an early storm from Australia's batsmen to hit back strongly in the final session on day four. Shane Watson and Chris Rogers, feasting on some loose bowling, posted an opening stand of 84 to make deep inroads into their target. Graeme Swann took a long time to settle, delivering several full tosses and short balls, while Steven Finn's first spell, peppered with short balls outside off stump, was horrible. It necessitated his captain posting a sweeper on the cover boundary which, in turn, led to a gap in the close off-side field that allowed the batsmen to pick of singles with dispiriting ease.

Both recovered admirably, though. Finn returned for a much tighter spell, helping sustain the pressure built up by his colleagues and, once Swann had taken his first wicket, in his 23rd over, he settled into a much more penetrative rhythm.

It was still a slightly frustrating day for Swann. Playing on his home ground and on such a dry surface, the expectations upon him may have been unrealistically high. Although he found turn, it was often too slow to unduly trouble the batsman and, perhaps in frustration, Swann attempted to force matters and failed to show the requisite patience for such a context. He adapted, though, and produced a beautiful delivery to account for Phil Hughes.

The pick of the bowlers, by some distance, was Stuart Broad. Perhaps buoyed with confidence by his performance with the bat, Broad bowled at a sharp pace, generated some reverse swing to account for Shane Watson and maintained a probing line and length that eventually drew a false shot from Michael Clarke. Certainly Broad appeared unaffected by the furore surrounding his decision not to walk on the third day and proved he has fully recovered from the recent blows he has taken to his right shoulder.

"Australia played very well when they first came out and we maybe didn't bowl to the standards we'd like," Bell admitted.

"But we reassessed at tea. We came out with a plan to be very accurate and maybe a little more defensive with field settings. This is the type of wicket that, if two guys get in, then it's hard to get them out. We wanted to keep the run rate down and create pressure. We got wickets at the end due to really accurate bowling. We're happy with how patient we were.

"Our bowlers have been good at adapting to the conditions. They're not just guys who run up on green seaming wickets and take wickets. They take wickets in all surfaces. They've learned to adapt. That's why guys like Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad have done so well in the last few years.

"I've played too much Ashes cricket to take anything for granted. They have two guys at the crease who are dangerous players. We have to get them early in the morning. It is going to be a big first hour for both teams."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on July 14, 2013, 22:01 GMT

    @gsingh7 on (July 14, 2013, 12:39 GMT) Brilliant. I too thought Eng were going to lose at that point but it seems that your writing off Eng comms are a lucky charm

  • Dummy4 on July 14, 2013, 13:06 GMT

    Phat-boy, that record of Bells was broken about 3 years ago, making the criticism about as out of date as most things said of him

  • gurinder on July 14, 2013, 12:39 GMT

    all in vain as aus are 20 runs behind. he should have score atleast 50 more to give team a fighting chance. 300 was never enough on this flat track.

  • Chris on July 14, 2013, 12:04 GMT

    @Phat-Boy - he used to have that reputation and that was the case for quite a while, but he now has five centuries where he was the only centurion in the innings - his first was against Bangladesh in March 2010 at Mirpur, his most recent before this was here against India in 2011 (also in the second innings).

  • George on July 14, 2013, 8:19 GMT

    I've always thought that much of the criticism of Bell was unjustified. Because he's a slightly reserved character instead of a swaggering Pietersen-esque egomaniac, somehow people think that equates to weakness. But you don't score 6000 test runs with 17 centuries without mental strength. My personal favourite Bell innings was his 87 at Perth in 2006 - even though it came in a heavy defeat.

  • John on July 14, 2013, 7:49 GMT

    Have to say , great inns by the little fellow. I have been critical of Bell's position at times and have been lambasted for it although I feel my criticism was justified.

    But this was just what was required so fair play to him

  • ian on July 14, 2013, 6:47 GMT

    This was, by a country mile, Ian Bell's most imortant Test innings & even if he hadn't quite reached his hundred, it would still, IMO, remain better -- i.e. more valuable; played in the correct context for the match situation -- than any century he has scored thus far. As everyone knows who's not stats obsessed, a three-figure score is not automatically a better knock than a 70, an 80, or a 99. Conversely, there are some scores of 200 that are scarcely worth half their numerical value. Anyway, that aside, he played extremely well here at TB & showed a high degree of awareness in his shot selection, & no lofted shots to extra-cover! Now, he must go on & get into this particular zone, time & time again. If he can do this, then his value to the side had just doubled. Well done, Ian!

  • Dummy4 on July 14, 2013, 6:29 GMT

    He improved a lot and now a days he is spending more time on pitch. I just can't forget the look of Ian Bell facing shane warne. he would be glad not to see shane warne again.

  • Sam` on July 14, 2013, 3:54 GMT

    Steve, that is true but I think - happy to stand corrected if this isn't true - that this century was Bell's first where no other batsman has hit 100 in the same innings. That tells you that while he has a good record, he doesn't often play his best when things are tough. Glad he showed what he can do this time.

  • Chris on July 14, 2013, 0:39 GMT

    Best Ashes innings? Possibly his best ever (or at least most important) test innings.

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