Bell runs hot as England warm up
Ian Bell's magnificent unbeaten 124 propelled England to a seven-wicket victory over the Prime Minister’s XI in their first game since winning the Ashes.
Given a chance at the top of the order in the absence of the rested Andrew Strauss, Bell played with assertive ease to carry the tourists to a testing Duckworth-Lewis target of 223 in 35 overs in Canberra.
He shared an opening stand of 82 with Steven Davies and added a further 98 with Jonathan Trott, who made 48, for the second wicket as England cruised home with nine balls to spare.
Earlier, Michael Yardy’s 3-33 helped limit the Prime Minister’s XI to 254 for nine, in a game reduced to 44 then 43 overs per side by rain.
Ajmal Shahzad’s three wickets came at a greater cost of 61, with Tim Paine and Dan Christian making 50 and 53 for the home side.
Bell, however, trumped both by hitting 13 fours and a six in a wonderfully fluent 102-ball innings, underlining his fine form after a century in the final Ashes Test in Sydney while ensuring England head into the first of two Twenty20 internationals, against Australia in Adelaide on Wednesday, on a positive note.
Bell has not played a Twenty20 for England since June 2008, when he made 60 not out against New Zealand, but he could hardly have done a better job of enhancing his selection prospects today.
There are a clutch of players vying for a place in England's top order, with Kevin Pietersen the most notable after he was dropped last summer.
It was therefore notable that the only four players England retained from their Ashes triumph in Sydney three days ago were batsmen, with Bell, Trott, Pietersen and stand-in skipper Paul Collingwood selected.
But only Bell and Trott got to put forward their cases with any authority, the former stamping his class from the outset of the chase.
While Davies was twice dropped before he eventually departed for 24, Bell ensured the scoreboard ticked over with traditional yet clinical strokeplay, most notably his cover driving.
He hit the expensive Trent Copeland for three consecutive fours as England raced past 50 inside seven overs and had made 49 before a 30-minute rain delay reduced the chase - originally 258 off 43 overs, owing to the loss of a further over during the first innings - to 223 off 35.
Bell rode his luck when Callum Ferguson spilled a chance over his head on 71 but, while Trott fell just short of a half-century, edging Xavier Doherty to wicketkeeper Tim Paine, went to his century from 89 balls.
Pietersen fell late when he was trapped lbw by Brett Lee for 13 before Bell and Eoin Morgan saw England over the line.
Earlier, Yardy was the pick of bowlers as in a slightly rusty England display with the ball.
Paine won the toss, conducted by Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and chose to immediately test an England attack which relied on new arrivals Chris Woakes, Luke Wright, James Tredwell and Yardy, all of whom were given the chance to acquaint themselves with Australian conditions.
They were forced to wait 55 minutes by rain, after which Shahzad and Woakes struggled for their line and length. Paine and Usman Khawaja were untroubled as they added 75 in 13 overs before the introduction of spin.
Off-spinner Tredwell made the initial breakthrough when he claimed a sharp return catch offered by Khawaja, who had got off the mark with a hooked six off Woakes.
Slow left-armer Yardy struck twice when he claimed the key wicket of Paine and Alex Keath with almost identical lbw decisions, and also accounted for Tom Thornton courtesy of a caught-and-bowled after Ferguson was bowled by Shahzad.
From 179 for five, the Prime Minister’s XI recovered thanks to Christian’s clean hitting.
Signed by Deccan Chargers for US$900,000 in the Indian Premier League auction yesterday, he responded with four fours and a six before top-edging Shahzad to Pietersen.
By that time Woakes had taken his first wicket, that of Sam Miller, courtesy of Collingwood’s fine leaping catch at midwicket, and he also removed James Pattinson after Shahzad cleaned up Doherty.