Performance of The Day: Ian Bell
Bell's hundred showed his rich potential as a strokeplayer, something we have rarely seen in ODIs
It is tempting to think that had Kevin Pietersen not retired from ODIs then Ian Bell – who made a sublime 126 in his 109th ODI - would not have played in this series, but it is probably incorrect.
It is more likely that the inexperienced Jonny Bairstow would have missed out after a subtle change in the ICC rules placed a higher premium on Bell’s technical expertise at the top of the order.
The 1st ODI of this Wisden Trophy series, at Southampton’s Ageas Bowl, is the first time two new balls have been used in English conditions. An innovation from World Series Cricket, using a new ball at each end was adopted for a while in Australia, but never exported overseas. The ICC has re-introduced it as part of their drive to make 50-over cricket more exciting.
Before this series, England coach Andy Flower confidently asserted that Bell’s superb technique gave him the best chance of succeeding against two new white balls. This claim came despite Bell having been dropped for England’s previous one-day series against Pakistan. But Bell is back, and if this innings is anything to go by, he won’t be dropped again for some time.
Bell loves batting at the Ageas Bowl. He has made two first-class centuries in as many seasons and his one other ODI hundred was here in 2007 against India, when he stroked 126* batting at number three.
This was an even better innings. Opening with Alastair Cook, he made a free-scoring 126 off 117 balls before losing his wicket trying to sweep Dwayne Bravo.
Pietersen tweeted his approval and the England supporters gave Bell, who played the innings with 10 stitches in his face following a net injury yesterday, a standing ovation.
With a new ball at each end, and having lost Cook for a duck in the first over, Bell started cautiously but in the sixth over he took Andre Russell apart, striking 18 runs in one over.
First off, he skipped down the pitch and hit a towering six back over the bowler’s head. Inevitably, Russell over-compensated next ball and dropped short, eliciting a fierce Bell cut backward of point for four. After a breather, two more fours followed to opposite corners of the ground, first a pull shot, then a drive.
Bell’s disappointing record in ODIs prior to this innings – so reminiscent of Cook before he became captain – is a bit of a mystery. He has all the strokes needed to take an attack apart. This innings was replete with his trademark extra-cover drives placed to perfection, but there was so much else to savour, including a reverse-paddle sweep off Marlon Samuels, and some swivel pulls.
His partnership with Jonathan Trott showed the benefit of an understanding developed through hours at the crease together in international cricket. They put on 108 and skilfully rotated the strike.
It was not quite a faultless innings, though. Bell got the faintest edge on 23, but it was undetected by the umpire and West Indies had squandered their reviews.
After a week dominated by Pietersen’s retirement from one-day cricket, England must now move forward. Cook, Bell and Trott are a solid top three with the technique to deal with the new ball. Eoin Morgan and Craig Kieswetter follow, and given a decent platform, have the freedom to innovate.
All five batsmen have the ability to take a game away from the opposition, which was exactly what Bell did. He is not a showman like Pietersen, but in the first ODI, he was equally destructive.