Tag Archives: australia

The Ashes: First Test Day 3 – Bell stands firm

A FEW years ago, during a one-day international following England’s 5-0 Ashes drubbing in Australia, Ian Bell played a shot that got me thinking. Brett Lee was the bowler. Bell took a couple of steps down the pitch and offered a firm forward defensive. Nothing, in the words of Henry Blofeld, was done. But Bell just looked so calm, so cool, so totally in control. He appeared to have all the time in the world, like he could have hit the ball anywhere he chose.

Why then, I wondered, couldn’t he play like this every time? It’s a question that has puzzled greater cricketing minds than mine throughout Bell’s career. For every sublime innings, there’s a tame chip to cover. Every time he looks like he’s broken through, he will frustrate and infuriate with a sloppy dismissal.

But recently it seems like Bell is making the step up from very good to world class. He still has all the silky strokes he had when he broke into the Warwickshire side at the age of 19. But now he’s grown up and learnt how to fight.

His match-saving innings in the final test in New Zealand earlier this year was a brilliant example, and today’s unbeaten 95 – surely to progress to the first century of the series tomorrow – was another. Bell has had more than his fair share of critics over the years, and he seems to have been trying to prove them wrong ever since he made his debut.

Bell is now 31 years old, he has played 88 Test matches and scored almost 6,000 runs. The “Sherminator” jibes are a thing of the past, and yet there were still comments in the build-up to The Ashes – some of them from journalists who should know better – questioning his place in the team.

Bell is one of the best English batsmen of his generation. He may go on to be one of its best batsmen full stop. But something tells me he won’t be remembered as such. The enduring English Test players of my youth – Atherton, Stewart, Thorpe, Hussain, Vaughan – were all good players who had exceptional periods. Bell is more talented than all of them. He has benefited from the selectors’ faith – what the likes of Ramprakash and Hick would have given for the same. Now he is adding the steel, determination and grit to make him a world beater.

England fans love a moan. But they have short memories. In Pietersen, Cook and Bell we have three of the greatest batsmen this country has ever seen. They know when they’re in a scrap, and later in this series they will get the chance to really make hay.

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The Ashes: First Test Day 2 – Start the Agar

Eng 215 & 80-2

Aus 280

FOR as long as I can remember, almost everyone who has captained England for any length of time has ended up losing his hair. Gatting, Gooch, Hussain, Vaughan, Strauss – even Atherton and Stewart might have thinned on top by the end of their ill-fated tenures.

Alastair Cook’s thick black mane is showing no signs of wilting – but if the next six weeks follow the course of the first two pulsating days at Nottingham, he might have cause to pull some of it out himself.

Having collapsed to a mediocre score then launched a stirring fightback on day one, England reduced Australia to rubble. Well, almost. At 117-9 it just needed one final blow to bring the tourists’ house crashing down. But the harder the wolves puffed, the more the final pair of Ashton Agar and Phil Hughes refused to let them in.

19-year-old Agar played with freedom, skill and an impish smile. It was a freakish knock, a once in a lifetime innings. He made a mockery of the nerves and tension that seemed to grip the more experienced players during the opening exchanges.

England suffered some bad luck courtesy of two perplexing decisions by third umpire Marais Erasmus. These things will even themselves out over the series, but it’s unusual to feel hard done by as a result of the man upstairs, who should have time and technology on his side.

Cook and Pietersen did well to calm the pulse rate of the match during the final session of day two, and the situation remains delicately poised. Despite Siddle, Agar and Hughes’ excellent performances so far, this Australian side should not be giving Cook any sleepless nights. Let’s hope he doesn’t need to invest in any re-growth products just yet.

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The Ashes: First Test, Day One – Nervous Nottingham

England 215

Australia 75-4

THERE’S nothing quite like the first day of an Ashes series to get the butterflies fluttering. Much has been made in recent times of the importance of opening exchanges – Slater v Defreitas, Harmison v Langer, Harmison to second slip, Strauss to gully. None of those moments had much of an impact on the rest of their respective series, but they stick in our minds.

So much planning, preparation, analysis and “sport science” goes into an Ashes summer. But when the players take the field on the first morning all that goes out of the window. It’s every man for himself, a madcap rush of adrenaline, aggression and nervous energy. The first day goes to the team that controls and uses those factors.

This England team does not start Test series well, and this morning did nothing to dispel that theory. They were skittish, twitchy, keen to impose themselves but wafting and flicking at deliveries they should have left alone. There was swing, but it was not the swing that got wickets. It was the danger of swing, the seed planted in the batsman’s mind. Cook got drawn into a drive outside off. Trott looked comfortable and fluent until dragging a wide one on to his stumps. Bell hung his bat at a decent ball. Pietersen and Prior drove loosely. Root and Bairstow were undone by excellent yorkers, but the latter’s tendency to close the bat face – spotted by eagle-eyed observers earlier in the year – got him in trouble again.

Siddle and Pattinson were the pick of the Aussie bowlers when they got it right, but there’s nothing there to worry Alastair Cook’s side in the long-term. When England came to bowl under the same heavy sky, conditions were perfect for the hosts to hit back. Finn was fast and hostile, at his best when pitching the ball up, while Anderson swung the ball both ways. His dismissal of Michael Clarke for a duck must rate as one of his best.

Steven Smith, a risky selection at number five in the Aussie order, was the only batsman all day to use his nervous energy to good effect, pouncing on anything short and scampering quick singles.

Over the next 10 Test matches there will be miles of column inches and hours of broadcast time dedicated to technical assessments and examinations of these two oldest of enemies. There is an awful lot of cricket yet to be played, but for now we can look back on a day of brilliant, crazy, panicked cricket that had viewers on the edge of their seats and coaches with their heads in their hands.

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