Bell sets up England victory push
Ian Bell extended his splendid run of form with another century before England’s seamers inched them closer towards a series victory over Sri Lanka.
Afforded the luxury of continually clear skies at the Rose Bowl for the first time in the final npower Test, England made much of the running on a day that veered between thrilling and attritional.
Bell’s superb unbeaten 119, allied to an effervescent 71 from Eoin Morgan, helped the hosts to 377 for eight, and Andrew Strauss’ declaration on the fourth afternoon – however much it may have been influenced by tomorrow’s weather forecast – left no doubt as to his intentions as England chased the win which would give them a 2-0 series triumph.
Sri Lanka, faced with a first-innings deficit of 193 and the memories of their Cardiff capitulation not yet erased completely, demonstrated admirable stubbornness during the remaining 49 overs.
However, that they lost three wickets in reducing the deficit by 112 means an England victory is the most likely outcome tomorrow.
Sri Lanka will resume 81 adrift, with their hopes seemingly resting on the advent of rain and the continued resilience of Kumar Sangakkara, who is unbeaten on 44.
What Sri Lanka would give for a contribution of the sort provided by Bell, whose last five Test innings now read: 115, 103 not out, 52, 57 not out and 119 not out.
He batted beautifully today – he knows no other way – during an innings that spanned 169 balls and contained 12 fours.
James Anderson was Bell’s initial accomplice when England resumed (mercifully, on time) on 195 for four this morning.
The nightwatchman dealt almost exclusively in crisp off-side boundaries in making 27, only to be caught behind playing back to Chanaka Welegedara to break a breezy fifth-wicket partnership worth 45.
Bell moved through the gears seamlessly, following up a morning of largely measured accumulation with a wonderful exhibition of off-side strokeplay.
Late-cutting the seamers adroitly and driving with typical elan, he brought up his 14th Test century of his career off 159 deliveries moments after Morgan, having taken 10 balls to get off the mark, had gone to an 88-ball fifty.
Both players ran with great urgency, but Morgan’s innings, which featured a clutch of meaty strokes through cover and point, came to an end courtesy of a faint outside edge as he advanced to drive Suranga Lakmal.
It was the first of three wickets to fall for four runs as Matt Prior cut Thisara Perera straight to gully (the dressing room window was spared) before Stuart Broad’s top-edged pull to deep square-leg off Lakmal prompted Strauss to call England in.
Sri Lanka’s task, on a still bouncy pitch and against an attack that had few problems bowling them out for 184 in the first innings, appeared an onerous one.
Although Tharanga Paranavitana, squared up by Anderson, was taken low at second slip by Graeme Swann to depart for 10, England had to wait another 25 overs for further success.
In making 38, Test debutant Lahiru Thirimanne batted with the sort of determination to suggest he has a future at this level, although he was reprieved by Bell on 13 – a sharp one-handed chance at short-leg off Chris Tremlett – before eventually edging the same bowler to Strauss at first slip.
Broad, overlooked for new-ball duties after Tremlett's six-wicket haul first time around, responded with a typically wholehearted burst that yielded the key scalp of Mahela Jayawardene, courtesy of a faint outside edge.
All three batsmen had fallen to defensive shots. England can expect to see many more tomorrow.
Tickets are available from the Rose Bowl for the final day's play - priced at £10 for adults, free for the first child under-16 and £5 for each additional child.