Unflustered Bell puts England on top
Ian Bell delivered one of his most composed hundreds to squeeze the life out of Bangladesh on a slow-burning third day at the Shere Bangle National Stadium.
In a departure from the painstaking earlier efforts of his colleagues, Bell was rarely tied down in his 10th Test century, allowing England to contemplate taking a meaningful first-innings lead.
The first man to three figures in this match, Bell can now cast aside the oft-quoted and sometimes misleading statistic that he only scores centuries on the back of one his partners.
At stumps in Mirpur, England were 440 for eight, a lead of 21. The continued presence of Tim Bresnan, unbeaten on 74, means they will aim to frustrate their opponents until lunch tomorrow, much like the Bangladesh tail did yesterday.
Three late wickets this evening was some reward for the hosts, admittedly on the wrong end of a couple of tough umpiring decisions.
But Bangladesh certainly did not help themselves, lapsing into ragged fielding and unimaginative bowling for much of the afternoon. In short, it was precisely the sort of day followers of the ICC’s youngest Test nation have become accustomed to after they have worked themselves to a promising position.
A shining exception was the probing bowling of their captain, Shakib Al Hasan, who was always hard to score off. His individual figures of 57-27-99-4 speak volumes for his never-say-die attitude.
The unfortunate downfall of the stubborn Jonathan Trott in the third over, before England had added to their overnight 171 for three, immediately energised the sparse crowd.
Shakib beat Trott’s forward lunge, the ball ricocheting off his elbow and spinning back on the turf to dislodge the off bail. Sadly for Trott, he reacted too slowly in his attempt to kick the ball away.
England should have been further damaged three overs later, but Matt Prior was granted a generous reprieve when struck in front by the tireless Rubel Hossain.
It was a costly error as Prior went on to dominate a stand of 98 with Bell.
Bell was unperturbed by events and carried on his own merry way, though he was aided in no small part by the puzzling approach adopted by Shakib.
Showing a preference for left-arm spin, Shakib continued beyond reason with Abdur Razzak for much of the morning, even entrusting the out-of-sorts bowler with the new ball immediately when it became available.
His decision was harshly exposed, as Bell immediately struck the harder ball for two fours as Razzak continued to bowl too wide.
Prior escaped a mistimed lofted drive off the seldom-used Mahmudullah to play a typically aggressive and selfless innings.
But having helped himself to a fifty, and two subsequent leg-side full tosses from Shakib, Prior charged down the pitch rashly and was bowled - beaten by the turn. Nonetheless, his 62 visibly sapped Bangladesh’s confidence.
Two key decisions went in England’s favour in the afternoon. Bresnan’s faint edge onto his pad was gobbled up by silly point, and the batsman stood his ground as Shakib’s vociferous appeal was rejected.
Bell had his first reprieve on 82, struck by Razzak on the back leg, but was given the benefit of the doubt with the ball possibly clipping leg stump.
He continued to play beautifully, and emphasised his assuredness by dancing down to Razzak and striking him for a straight six.
Bell reached his century, from 201 deliveries, with a trademark late cut through a now deserted slip cordon.
Without performing any miracles, Bell and Bresnan had added 87 between lunch and tea.
By this point, Bangladesh were bereft of ideas, but Bell should have been on his way for 119 when he clipped a Shafiul Islam long-hop to forward square-leg where Imrul Kayes, diving forward, could not hang on.
Most players began to tire as the evening wore on, but Bresnan still had plenty of energy to club Shakib for four to reach his maiden Test half-century.
Three wickets for 19 runs saw England lose some ground in the last hour. First Bell sacrificed his wicket, top-edging a slog sweep off Shakib in search of quick runs. He faced 263 deliveries and batted for well over four hours.
More belated reward for the fielding side arrived when Shakib – who else? – got a fingertip to Bresnan’s drive to run out Graeme Swann at the non-striker’s end.
And the third of England’s all-rounders, Stuart Broad, was swiftly sent back by Mahmudullah, lbw propping forward in the penultimate over.
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