Warwickshire 308 for 2 (Bell 108*, Trott 86*, Rhodes 50) vs Sussex
Just before tea on the first afternoon of this game David Wiese bowled to Ian Bell. One of his deliveries was a trifle short and a little wide of the off stump but it could scarcely be ranked as poor. Bell rocked back slightly and stroked the ball between point and cover as if not wanting to damage it. It was the fifth of his 11 fours and most of the others were similarly easeful. By the close Bell was unbeaten on 108 and had helped Jonathan Trott put on an unbroken 206 for Warwickshire's third wicket. It may be the partnership that seals a season's work.
For yes, there was significance to Bell's artistry on the opening day of this game, not that his innings ever need any. Warwickshire require only a draw in this match to secure promotion and thereby keep the silent promise they made to themselves in April. Sussex, meanwhile must win their last two games and one cannot like their chances at all. The defeat at Chester-le-Street damaged them badly and by quarter-past-twelve this morning they were watching Bell opening his account with a tucked single off Wiese. Portents are rarely so decorous.
Sussex thus seem very likely to spend a fourth season in Division Two and this will come as a great local disappointment, not least because the game has always taken its place among Brighton and Hove's bewildering variety of attractions. For example, Brighton's buses are named after notable people connected with the town and some of the vehicles honour the county's cricketers. There is a K S Ranjitsinhji, a Maurice Tate and on Monday afternoon C B Fry was seen tootling down North Street. It passed Anita Roddick on the opposite side of the road, then Ivy Compton-Burnett and Ralph Vaughan Williams. It would be hazardous, though, if the buses' progress reflected the characters of any cricketers honoured: while Ken Suttle might potter along happily, Ted Dexter would hurtle down narrow roads at breakneck speed, occasionally veering off in bizarre directions.
But perhaps Sussex needed something unconventional this afternoon. Ben Brown's bowlers never allowed the batsmen to score at will but neither, until the last hour of play, did they induce regular error. Instead, Trott, in one of his final innings, marked out his guard like an accountant preparing his ledger while Bell remained unconsciously balletic, endowing his forward defensive shots with as much poise as his drives. In the second over after lunch he patted a full toss from Danny Briggs to the midwicket boundary. Aggression seemed inimical to him and quite soon, Trott, after his own methodical fashion. had warmed to the theme.
There were statistical niceties, too. Bell has scored more runs against Sussex than any other opponent except Australia and his fifth century against them took his aggregate to 1506 at an average of 65.47. Trott already has six centuries against Sussex and a seventh seems likely on the morrow. And to be brutal, always an effort where Bell is concerned, Warwickshire need do nothing in this game except bat Sussex out of it.
Bell and Trott's composure was such that the much of the first session became a prelude to the main business of the day. Nonetheless, for 25 overs Dominic Sibley and Will Rhodes encountered no more difficulties than openers might expect on the first morning of a game only for both to depart in the space of 14 balls. Sibley, having made 44, came down the pitch to drive Briggs but only skewed a catch to Michael Burgess at short midwicket. Then, two balls after reaching his fifty, Rhodes was bowled off the bottom edge when attempting to keep out something of a shooter from Wiese.
Thereafter wickets never threatened to fall in the clumps beloved of the coaches; come to think of it, they rarely threatened to fall at all on an easy-paced pitch offering some low bounce and little carry. We were left, instead, with Trott tucking the ball off his hip or shaping it to third man off Chris Jordan as the Sussex attack faltered.
Jofra Archer bowled well to Trott after lunch and Briggs' accuracy always reminded both batsmen of their puritan duties. Sussex took the new ball and Archer received an appreciative nod from Bell when he beat him outside the off stump. In the next over Trott was all but cut in two by one from Ollie Robinson that came back off the seam. But it still seemed clear that Sussex had missed the C B Fry.
Two overs before the close Bell reached the 57th century of his first-class career with a back foot four off Jordan. Another in the same over made him only the second player in the country to score a thousand Championship runs this season. On such evenings, the ball becomes the context of his art, the fielders no more than obstacles to be avoided. Yet his desire is also part of the magic.
If you want to understand who Ian Bell is, then you should watch him bat for an hour. One thought of the occasion some 27 summers ago when the late Neal Abberley, then the county's batting coach, saw the nine-year-old from Coventry for the first time and wondered what the Gods had sent him. Batting is what Bell was put on earth to do and when he plays as he did at Hove on the first day of this game he shares his joy with others. It distracts the mind from the many recessionals of autumn; its graceful images remain when points and results are both forgotten.