Law's pain is Bell's gain
To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.
Isaac Newton’s third law of motion may not have been conjured up with cricket in mind, but it could quite easily be applied to Ian Bell in this Test series.
Bell’s unbeaten 119 at the Rose Bowl was the centrepiece of England’s march to 377 for eight declared on a day that ended with Sri Lanka trailing by 81 with seven second-innings wickets in hand.
Not only did it help lay the foundations for a victory push that England fans will hope will climax tomorrow, but it took his run tally for the series to 331 in four innings. He has been dismissed only once.
While Bell’s strokeplay – a wonderful blend of technical excellence and effortlessness – must delight England team-mates and fans alike, every sweet cover drive or deft late cut has had the opposite effect on Sri Lanka interim coach Stuart Law.
“He’s a pain in the back-side,” said the Australian. “Hats off to him – he played another great knock today.
“The way he plays, he keeps it very simple, scores quickly but hits the ball in a 360-degree arc. It’s very difficult to contain. He’s full of confidence and you can see that in the way he plays.
“Playing good cricket is all about consistency and Ian has done that in the last 12-18 months. He’s improved that consistency level in his play and he’s started to fulfil the promise he showed coming through the ranks as a youngster at Warwickshire.”
Bell accepted Law’s compliment with a smile, and agreed that he has never played better on a consistent basis. He also believes there is more to come.
“Yes, it's been a good series,” he said. “I am batting as well as I can at the minute. I feel confident and I’m on top of my game at the minute, which is good.
“I’m really happy with the way my game’s going, and the improvement I’ve made, but there’s still a long way to go with where I can take my game.
“The goal is to be as consistent as possible. In the past I’ve played well at times, probably not when it’s got very tough, but hopefully in the last 12-18 months I’ve started to put in performances when the team have needed them most. It’s nice to contribute to us getting in winning positions.”
That England head into the final day, albeit one on which rain is forecast, with genuine ambitions of wrapping up victory and a 2-0 series win owes much to the urgency with which they batted today.
James Anderson, the nightwatchman, provided the early impetus during a sprightly 45-run stand with Bell, who then added 137 in 33 overs with Eoin Morgan for the sixth wicket.
Morgan’s contribution was 71, and Bell admitted he relished their entertaining alliance as well as the freedom afforded him by the match situation.
“It's nice to get that licence to experiment and try different things," he added. "Today I thought we did it well.
“The way Jimmy Anderson played up front was quite aggressive and allowed me and Morgy to go through the gears. We know the weather forecast isn’t great and we wanted to have a good 50 overs at them today.
“I like batting with Morgs. Batting at six where you have to go through the gears or do something a little bit different, he’s the perfect man to come in in that situation.
“Hopefully he will keep growing all the time. With the way the top three play, to have someone like Morgs coming in at six is going to be a big strength to us. He’s going to become a very, very good Test cricketer.”
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.