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Oval demons give Bell heart

Investec Test Series

Ian Bell

Ian Bell plays on to the indefatigable Peter Siddle for a fighting 72, a dismissal which prompted a flurry of England wickets

Ian Bell insists the Ashes decider at the Brit Oval is still locked at “50-50” after a first day when England mustered only 307 for eight.

Bell (72) and captain Andrew Strauss (55) both hit half-centuries, and there was an encouraging 41 from debutant Jonathan Trott.

But Peter Siddle finished with 4-63 as a hard-working Australia stopped England - who won the toss - racking up the dominating first-innings total many believe they need to have a chance of snatching the urn back in this fifth npower Test.

Bell, restored to the number three position, has identified some unusual characteristics, though, in a pitch he believes bears little resemblance to the ordinary Oval surface - with less predictable pace and more spin already giving the batsmen headaches.

He senses England’s total may well turn out to be handy in a match he thinks will not end in the draw which would close out a 1-1 series stalemate and keep the Ashes in Australia’s possession.

“After day one, it’s pretty much 50-50,” said Bell. “I guess with the starts we’ve had we could have been in a slightly better position.

“But it was quite a hard day. It didn’t feel quite like your usual Oval pitch - where you get a little bit more pace and bounce.

“It felt quite slow and quite frustrating at times to time the ball. Sometimes when you get in it’s just a lovely place to bat. But it wasn’t quite like that.”

Simon Katich, Stuart Broad, Marcus North, Jonathan Trott & Brad Haddin

Simon Katich (short leg, far left) shows the lightning reactions to run out a floundering Jonathan Trott for 41 on Test debut

Bell hopes the onus of having to bat last may yet prove too much for Australia.

“With the spin we’ve seen on day one - quite unusual for here - we are quite happy we’ve got 300 on the board,” he said.

“We don’t quite know what a good score is here in the first innings - and until Australia have batted, I don’t think we’ll know either way.”

England’s batsmen have failed to match Australia’s this summer - and the tourists’ seven individual hundreds to their hosts’ one is a damning statistic, which is not lost on Bell.

“The stat of one hundred in the series so far, that’s not good enough - and we probably were in position to make the most of that first innings - but we have 300 on a pitch which looks very dry,” he added.

“It does feel very unusual here at the Oval to see it spinning like that and so dry. This already feels more like a day-three wicket - much more likely to be a result pitch than most here.

“If after both first innings we can somehow have a bit of a lead I don’t think it will be particularly easy to bat last on.”

Bell, twice seen off cheaply by Mitchell Johnson in England’s capitulation at Headingley Carnegie, knew he would soon have to face the left-armer again - and he needed a little luck as well as judgment to come through another examination of short-pitched bowling early in his innings.

“I knew that was something that was going to be thrown my way, that Johnson would be on pretty quickly as soon as I got to the crease,” he confirmed.

Andrew Strauss

Another fifty for Andrew Strauss, England's sole centurion of the series. He too was snaffled short of a ton

“But I’ve done a lot of hard work since Headingley to find a method that works.”

He eventually hit 10 fours from 137 balls before edging Siddle on straight after tea - only to learn the delivery, like the one that had earlier got Strauss, ought to have been called a no-ball for overstepping.

It is not something Bell is inclined to complain about, though.

“I was told it was a no-ball. It’s frustrating, but there’s not a lot you can do about that,” he said.

“It’s frustrating not to go on and get a hundred, but I was pretty pleased with the way I played.

“We had to graft it out. It was ugly cricket at times, but that is probably what was needed early on. We had to really fight hard.

“If we can scrap away for a few runs tomorrow morning, get a bit of momentum and start off well with the ball this game is really in the balance.”

The whole-hearted Siddle broadly shares Bell’s view that all is to play for.

“It is going to take a long time,” predicted the Victorian fast bowler.

“It will definitely go late into day five and it will be about the team which shows the most patience and consistency in what they do.

“I don’t know about the box seat - but we are in a pretty good position after being asked to bowl first.”