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Bell takes centre stage

Posted in England v South Africa - 2008

Ian Bell

Ian Bell accepts the applause after reaching three figures at Lord's

If Ian Bell played second fiddle to Kevin Pietersen on the first day of the opening Test against South Africa, he filled the role of leading male with considerable aplomb at Lord’s today.

Pietersen’s sensational hundred yesterday was deserving of the highest praise, and many of the finest innings this ground has seen would have paled in comparison.

But Bell stepped out of the shadow of his more illustrious colleague to bat England into a position of almost total dominance.

Though disappointment would have been prevalent among his feelings as he departed for 199, pride at having recorded his highest Test score, at a time in his career when some observers were casting doubt on his place in the team, will surely dominate his thoughts this evening.

His mammoth innings, which spanned 336 balls, formed the centrepiece of England’s total of 593 for eight declared, a considerable achievement given that South Africa won the toss and chose to bowl in conditions that favoured seam bowlers.

Or so we thought. For Bell, as Pietersen did yesterday, made batting look remarkably easy - wonderful in a way for those looking on while at the same time reminding the majority of us of our limitations.

One could also argue that Bell played within himself too, such was his unflustered approach.

A classical actor to Pietersen’s all-action hero, Bell showed no intention of even breaking sweat as he batted throughout a day which began with him 75 not out.

The full gamut of shots was there for all to see and enjoy. The graceful cover drives - a shot which brought him his first runs yesterday - were plentiful, while anything straying on to leg stump was dispatched clinically between square-leg and midwicket.

Paul Harris, the South Africa spinner who looks set for a chastening series despite having Bell caught and bowled to finish with 3-129, saw numerous deliveries sent fizzing back past or over him, and all but Jacques Kallis of the quicker bowlers was left nursing figures that comfortably breached the hundred mark.

Ian Bell

Bell holds his pose as he drives through the off side in style en route to a sensational 199

Short deliveries, of which there were far too many for South Africa’s liking, were cut or punched off the back foot by Bell with an ease belying the quality of a supposedly fearsome pace attack, albeit not functioning anywhere near its best.

In defence, too, he was largely untroubled, the closest he came to offering a chance a leading edge off Jacques Kallis that landed comfortably in front of cover.

Harris’ tactic of bowling from over the wicket into the rough well outside leg stump was regularly greeted with a dimsissive thrust of the front pad, although Bell proved he would not be dictated to by reverse-sweeping the left-armer later in the day.

He shared stands of 286 with Pietersen and 152 with Sidebottom - records for the fourth and seventh wicket respectively against South Africa - anchoring an innings that spanned 156 overs and left the tourists visibly deflated.

Bell himself batted for more than eight and a half hours over the best part of two days, hitting 20 fours and one six - as Pietersen himself managed in his splendid 152.

Bell’s composure deserted him only twice before his dismissal - when he called Broad through for an impossible single which would have cost the all-rounder his wicket had AB de Villiers hit the stumps from backward point, and a top-edged pull on 198 off Steyn.

His dismissal therefore came as something of a surprise. Advancing down the track to Harris - a tactic which reaped dividends throughout the day - Bell succeeded merely in drilling a half-volley back to the bowler, who held a smart catch tumbling to his right.

A maiden Test double century thus went begging, but Bell left the grandest stage having provided more than his fair share of entertainment to a wonderfully appreciative, and hugely fortunate, audience.

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