England benefiting from best of Bell
Ian Bell believes he is in the form of his life after completing his first double century for England and becoming Test cricket’s leading run-scorer in 2011.
Bell added a further 54 to his overnight 181 today to help the hosts post yet another mammoth total at the Kia Oval.
Their score of 591 for six appeared even stronger by stumps on day three as India lurched to 103 for five in reply, despite a defiant unbeaten 57 from the ever-reliable Rahul Dravid.
Having fallen one short of 200 against South Africa at Lord’s three years ago, Bell was understandably delighted to have reached the landmark for the first time.
“I look back on that 199 and falling one short against South Africa, and it was a good innings, but that one run does make a hell of a difference,” he admitted.
“I feel, form-wise at the minute, that I'm as good as I've been in my career.”
Bell has now scored 950 Test runs in 2011, 23 more than team-mate Alastair Cook and over 200 more than anyone else.
Yet when asked to comment on his rise to the top of that particular list, the Warwickshire batsman modestly deflected the praise onto others.
“Cookie’s had a fantastic year. The batting unit in general has been amazing and (batting coach) Graham Gooch has had a massive impact,” he said.
“A lot of it is down to him, but also the hunger we have. For me personally, when you see the other guys getting double hundreds it's in your mind as well to go even bigger and bigger and bigger.
“There's some competitiveness in there, which is healthy and very constructive as well.
“When I started and used to look at the programme, there'd be four or five hundreds (for us) and with the opposition there'd be 20, 30, 40.
"It's great for English cricket now to look at that and see we are stacking up some numbers now like opposition teams.”
In the absence of the injured Jonathan Trott, Bell was also pleased to have made such a significant impact at number three.
“I always believed I had some unfinished business at three,” he admitted.
“At times when I was up the order there before, I don't think I was mature enough and ready. I believe I'm a much better cricketer now than the last time I did it.
“I've learned a lot batting at five, and I've really enjoyed the challenge in this series against a good bowling attack to get up there and show people what I can do at three.
“But I'm pretty realistic as well that next series I'll be back at five.”
India were unable to match Bell’s heroics when they came out to bat following a lengthy rain delay.
After James Anderson and Stuart Broad had struck early blows, Graeme Swann took centre stage with three wickets and Bell feels the spinner can make an even bigger impression tomorrow.
“I didn't expect the pitch to deteriorate as much as it has, which is quite unusual for the Oval. It's like that Australia pitch in 2009 - very dry,” he explained.
“To see the kind of spin we've just had there on day three is quite incredible and exciting for us now. Seeing Swanny full of confidence lifts the rest of the guys.
“He has that reputation now of being world-class, and I hope in this match we will see what he can do on a spinning wicket.”
India bowling coach Eric Simons, who was subjected to a fierce grilling from sections of the touring media, believes his side can still avoid defeat, despite their perilous position heading into day four.
He said: “There’s no doubt it can be saved, there’s also no doubt who are the favourites, but we know Rahul Dravid can bat long periods of time and he’s coming into his own, and Gautam Gambhir (who didn’t bat today after suffering a mild concussion when fielding on day two) will be back tomorrow.”
Although Bell expressed excitement at the amount of turn gained by Swann in the final session, Simons added: “The wicket is certainly playing well. I don’t think it’s a reflection of the wicket, our score this evening. We just need someone to bed in for a long period of time.
“I don’t think conditions have changed dramatically. Certainly there’s pressure on our batting line-up when the opposition post a score that they have.
“If you look over the course of the series our bowlers have bowled a lot more because of the way we have played, so I think they (England’s bowlers) are obviously a lot fresher and can utilise what is in the wicket.”
Simons also refused to criticise India’s batting line-up, even though the tourists have yet to pass 300 in this series.
“We obviously would have liked to have given a better account of ourselves, but we’re not about to start blaming a particular section of our team,” he said.
When asked whether India were ashamed of their efforts, the South African replied: “We’re disappointed, obviously, I don’t know whether ashamed is the right word.”