Bell eager to toll in main event
Ian Bell is determined to carry his fine form into next week’s first Ashes Test following a hugely impressive hundred against Australia A at the Bellerive Oval.
Bell looked in glorious touch as he cruised to 121 not out and shared an unbroken stand of 198 in 45 overs with Paul Collingwood, who ended the day unbeaten on 74.
The upshot was a close-of-play 335 for five and a first-innings lead of 105 with plenty of power to add at the halfway mark of this four-day match.
England badly needed some vintage Bell when they lost three wickets for 13 runs to slip to 137 for five, still well in arrears early on a showery afternoon in Hobart.
From number six, Bell dominated his and Collingwood’s stand.
He is not about to proclaim he is in the form of his life just yet, however, despite an open invitation to do so.
“The Ashes series hasn’t started. It would be nice to take this into the Ashes; then I can tell you,” he said.
“I feel like I’m getting into the right place I need to be to be playing Test cricket, mentally and physically - and I think I’m maturing as a player.
“I think I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with (England consultant batting coach) Graham Gooch over the last 12, 16 months. He’s added some nice bits of experience that have helped in my game.
“He talks about going on and getting big hundreds, and today it was in the back of my mind what 'Goochie' talks about.
“In the past, I’ve been ‘guilty’ of getting 50s.”
The consensus is that Bell, for so long earmarked as a star of the future thanks to his Rolls-Royce technique, is about to come of age with a welter of runs.
“There’s no doubt I feel a better player than I was the last time I was on an Ashes tour,” he confirmed.
“I feel a better player, and my game is starting to really take shape.
“But it counts for nothing yet. It’s great practice, and great to go out and get hundreds, but the big stuff starts in Brisbane.”
Bell certainly appreciates the faith shown in him by England’s selectors, who immediately returned the 28-year-old to their first-choice team after his injury last summer.
“It’s nice to have that backing and confidence, and I hope the form can continue now for the Ashes,” he added.
“There’s no doubt when you lose your place, through injury or whatever, you’re going to have to fight hard to get it back.
“Probably coming here, I thought I would be the one on the outside and not playing.”
Instead, the spare batsman has been Eoin Morgan.
“Eoin is a fantastic player and he has a massive future,” Bell continued.
“It’s difficult [for Eoin] but also great for English cricket to have a quality player like him who is on the sidelines at the minute.”
Bell, whose 113-ball century contained 13 fours and a six and much of his trademark timing to all parts, took a particular liking to the leg-spin of Steven Smith.
The all-rounder is one of three A team players also in Australia’s 17-man squad for Brisbane.
But Bell did not go after him just to try to undermine his confidence.
“That’s the way I’ve been playing the spinners recently, trying to be quick on my feet and assert myself a little bit on the bowler,” he explained.
“It wasn’t because it was him, just the way I try to play spin now.”
Bell also played down concerns over the form of Kevin Pietersen, who was once again dismissed by a left-arm spinner - a noted habit of his in recent times.
Pietersen made just five before missing an unremarkable delivery from Steve O’Keefe to be bowled middle and off stump.
But Bell pointed out: “At the WACA the other day, he seemed to play (Michael) Beer fantastically well.
“When I saw it on the screen initially, I thought it looked a decent delivery.”
O’Keefe still seemed a little mystified several hours later as to how he had got Pietersen out.
“I think he played for a bit more ‘slide’. It still went straight, but he played for a bit more inswing,” he said.
“Early on against a spinner, you might try to get someone whose feet aren’t moving as well.
“I was lucky enough to get one past his defence. I’m sure if he had got in he would have taken a bit of a liking to the left-arm spin.”