By Rob Barnett
An hour of Kevin Pietersen at his best tomorrow will set the Boxing Day Test up for England, according to new vice-captain Ian Bell.
Pietersen seemingly holds the key to strong first-innings total, having dug in today to be unbeaten with 67 of the tourists’ 226 for six.
The number-four batsman played within himself on a true MCG pitch offering some assistance to seamers after Alastair Cook had the misfortune to lose his fourth toss in as many games this series.
Towards the end of the day Pietersen overtook Geoffrey Boycott to become England’s fourth-highest Test scorer on 8,119 runs.
Bell, named Cook’s deputy in the absence of dropped wicketkeeper Matt Prior, told ecb.co.uk: “Kev’s a positive player all the time so, like I said, he’s one guy in world cricket that can win games of cricket for you or change the game.
“So hopefully if he has an hour at his best then this game’s going forward.”
Pietersen’s stoic knock was typical of slow scoring today, caused mainly by the discipline of Australia’s unchanged attack.
“The surface is very good. I think we would probably have batted first anyway,” revealed Bell, who today registered 1,000 Test runs in a calendar year for the first time.
“We’re in a decent position, but it would be nice to have a few more on the board I think. Quite a slow day, quite an attritional day’s cricket, but we’ve got KP there in the morning and we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
Bell added: “Certainly the first session there was a little bit there for the bowlers, which you’ll always get on day one of a Test match.
“Australia have bowled very well as a unit all the way through this series and they did it really well today.
“They cut a lot of our strong areas off as batsmen and bowled exactly where you don’t want it.
“Credit to them, but for us again it’s quite frustrating that a lot of guys have got in and not gone on.”
Bell was part of England’s top seven, featuring Jonny Bairstow in for Prior, that all reached double-figures but with just Pietersen making a fifty.
Bell, who was caught behind for 27 off a Ryan Harris delivery that moved away, said: “It’s the most frustrating thing. You can take getting nought or one and getting a good ball up front, but when you do all the hard work and then get out it’s very frustrating.
“Like I say, hopefully tomorrow morning someone can stay with Kev and get us close to 300 or maybe a bit more, which gives us a chance to put a bit of pressure on Australia.”
Despite his disappointment at getting set but not going on, Bell was pleased to have played before a world-record cricket crowd of 91,092 in his third Boxing Day Ashes Test.
“(The) MCG, Boxing Day Test is one of the best places to come and play so for the young guys as well, (it’s a) great experience going forward and for the guys who’ve been around a bit again it’s a great occasion; to come out and play in front of 90,000 people isn’t something you do every day, so it’s great for cricket,” he concluded.