Bell issues rallying call
Ian Bell has urged England’s batsmen to repay the hard work shown by their bowlers if they are to avoid defeat in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Galle.
Andrew Strauss’ men continued to show frailties against spin as Rangana Herath claimed 6-74 to dismiss them for 193 in response to Sri Lanka’s 318 - which included 180 from captain Mahela Jayawardene.
Despite England being 125 runs behind, Graeme Swann brought his side back into the game with figures of 4-28 from 12 overs to help reduce Sri Lanka to 84 for five at the close, a lead of 209.
Bell, who returned to form with a fluent 52, insists England’s top-order have to emulate their bowlers, who have performed admirably for some time.
“I think it’s a good wicket, there is certainly no margin for error for our seamers. They have been outstanding throughout this game, there is not a lot in it for them,” Bell told Sky Sports.
“Jimmy (Anderson) and (Stuart) Broad all winter have nagged away on very flat wickets and pulled us out of a hole a few times. We will scrap hard together and hopefully come out the first hour and have a good day tomorrow.
"There is the odd bit of spin, but I think it’s a pretty good wicket. It’s not been a great winter, we haven’t really backed the bowlers, who have been outstanding all the way through the winter.
"We will be looking to get five wickets first thing tomorrow and then chase a score.”
Bell looked comfortable in his 87-ball stay at the crease, which included eight fours and a maximum.
The Warwickshire batsman is delighted to return to form and is hoping his team-mates will follow suit.
“It’s nice to get a bit of time out in the middle, it’s been a while,” he said. “It’s nice to get past 50, but it would have been nice to get a few more. It was a tough day for us.
“We all have different strengths, I like to come down and use my feet, hit over the top, while other guys use other areas including the sweep shot.
“We have to be positive and when you are playing spin, you can’t just sit there all day, you have to be pro-active. We tried to do that and it didn’t quite work for us today. But we will keep going.”
England require five more quick wickets tomorrow before they start chasing down a victory target - something which Bell is confident of doing.
“Every run will be crucial from now,” he added.
“We expect a little bit more spin so every run is crucial. We need to back the bowlers, dive around in the field to protect every run and put on a better batting performance to try and knock off some runs.
“The wicket is good, there have been some outstanding bowling. There is maybe a little bit for the left-handers in the rough and foot holes, but the middle of the wicket looks good.”
Home skipper Jayawardene expects England’s chase to be a tough one.
“Hopefully we can get a few more on the board and have a good crack at it,” he said. “If we get another 50-80 runs ahead that would be good, anything more is a bonus.”
Jayawardene also reserved special praise for Herath, who has taken to the unenviable task of replacing the legendary Muttiah Muralitharan.
“In the last 12 months since Murali retired, Rangana has taken the mantle of being our number one bowler,” he said. “He has always been an understudy and when Murali is bowling at the other end, you don’t get noticed much.
“But Rangana showed he has the experience now and he has the responsibility to lead a young attack.”
Herath was obviously pleased with his first-innings contribution, but admits the game is still in the balance.
“I'm really happy with the way I bowled,” he said. “I did the right thing and the basics right. I put it in the right areas, bowled accurately and used the pitch.
“But I’m not happy for the team because we are five wickets down. It’s now a 50-50 game, we need 50-60 runs, maybe 100 plus.”