Brilliant Bell leads the way
Ian Bell’s scintillating hundred propelled England into a commanding position in their final tour match before the Ashes.
His unbeaten 121 was the undoubted highlight of the second day’s play in Hobart, which saw England overcome a minor top-order wobble to establish a first-innings lead of 105.
England closed on 335 for five, with Collingwood 74 not out and the sixth-wicket partnership worth 198 and counting.
Collingwood batted with no little élan himself, as did Alastair Cook in making 60. There was further reason for England to cheer on a rain-affected day in the form of Jonathan Trott’s 40, which represented his highest contribution of the tour.
All, however, were overshadowed by Bell, who batted with the serene air of a player whose time has come.
A warm-up match this may be, but he can rarely have timed the ball so well so early in his innings. Almost all the 15 fours and one six he hit came via the middle of his bat, and any one of a handful of wonderful lofted straight drives will not be bettered by any player all winter in terms of aesthetic beauty.
The loss of three pre-tea wickets for 13 runs aside, England enjoyed a hugely profitable day. Three members of the top six have now scored centuries in the tour games, with Trott the only one not to pass 50.
However, the manner of Cook, Trott and Kevin Pietersen’s dismissals were far from ideal with the first Test in Brisbane only a week away.
Cook miscued to mid-on as he charged slow left-armer Steve O’Keefe, who turned one past Pietersen’s forward defensive after Trott had fatally aborted a pull off the impressive Mark Cameron.
Cook and Trott were largely untroubled during their 87-run alliance for the third wicket, nightwatchman Monty Panesar having pulled Clint McKay to Cameron at long-leg in a morning session limited to just 7.2 overs by rain.
Cook, who resumed today on 10, looked comfortable in defence and his emphatic treatment of the short ball - on either side of the wicket - saw his confidence grow in conditions that nevertheless offered the bowlers some assistance.
He advanced down the track to whip O’Keefe over midwicket and bring up a 91-ball half-century, only to chip to a backpedalling McKay at mid-on attempting a similar stroke moments later.
Like Cook, Trott, who combined trademark bottom-handed clips off his pads with the odd stroke of distinction through the off side, was also batting with considerable ease when he perished.
Hurried into a half-hearted pull, the ball looped to mid-off, where Usman Khawaja made good ground to take a diving catch over his shoulder.
Pietersen’s brief innings featured one stroke of authority - a whipped four over wide mid-on at O’Keefe’s expense - but the bowler exacted his revenge and highlighted Pietersen’s continuing shortcomings against left-arm spin by turning a beauty past the outside edge to hit the top of off stump.
Bell made light of a potentially precarious situation by taking the attack to Australia A, and Steven Smith in particular.
Using his feet superbly, Bell drove the leg-spinner for three consecutive driven fours in his first over, and cut him through cover to mark a 55-ball half-century.
Smith was hoisted for six over deep midwicket by Collingwood, whose easy accumulation went largely unnoticed alongside Bell’s glorious strokeplay, and Bell repeated the trick against the same bowler shortly after the partnership breached three figures.
Collingwood’s fifty - off a far from pedestrian 78 deliveries - was the next landmark to arrive as he too left his crease to good effect.
But Bell continued to play the more dominant role during a partnership which looks increasingly likely to shape this contest.
Fittingly, Bell went to three figures off Smith’s bowling, dancing down the track to pierce the gap at extra-cover and go to a 113-ball century while taking England beyond 300.
It was a fitting image on a day that will be remembered for some of the finest batting you are likely to witness.