View from the Vauxhall End: England solve opening dilemma?
For years, England have struggled to find a settled opening batsmen in ODIs, so have they finally done so in Cook and Bell?
Have England finally found the perfect opening partnership for 50-over cricket in Alastair Cook and Ian Bell?
It seemed that the alliance of Cook and Pietersen, after their success against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, was destined to establish itself, at least until the next World Cup. However, the latter’s premature, and mysterious retirement from ODIs caused another rethink in what has always been regarded as a crucial area in the team’s strategy.
Andrew Strauss, then Cook, was the established opener. They have had a variety of partners, none of them a specialist opener, as the selectors sought a batsman who could take advantage of the ten-over power-play.
In recent years we have seen Matt Prior and Carl Kieswetter promoted in the hope that they could crash early runs before the field became more defensive. Ravi Bopara and Jonathan Trott are others who have been given the opportunity. This line of thinking goes back to the days when Ian Botham opened, unsuccessfully, in the eighties. The approach has enjoyed no more than occasional success.
In the 2nd ODI, at the Kia Oval, Cook and Bell gave a masterclass in the art of one-day opening. They had added 122 from 128 deliveries when Bell mistimed a clever slower ball from West Indian captain Darren Sammy, to be caught at short extra cover. Bell had played and missed only twice, Cook once, during their partnership. Moreover, all their runs came from traditional cricket strokes, apart from a mid-wicket four by Cook which came from a slog sweep, although this undignified term does no justice to the elegance of the captain’s execution in this case.
Both men hit early boundaries, mainly from the profligate Tino Best, bowling almost every delivery in his first spell in excess of 90 mph. Bell pulled a head-high bouncer for four to open his scoring, following this with two back-foot drives to the off-side boundary, while Cook drove and cut the bowler for fours. The partnership was never becalmed as they picked up singles, 42 in all, during even the most accurate of overs, although it has to be said these were few and far between.
Cook, flourishing in his role as captain, made his third one-day hundred of the year, and was a worthy man-of-the-match. After his departure, Trott and Bopara finished off the game, and the series, in rapid time.
So, how long will England’s latest opening partnership survive before the call once again goes out for an English Adam Gilchrist or Chris Gayle? The answer should be, for a long time.
Cook and Bell both scored as quickly as Gayle, despite the West Indian’s late onslaught. Cook has always been regarded as the pragmatist, but his batting in ODIs is attractive to watch, with a more generous helping of his trademark cover drives and square cuts.
Bell is the artist, the man with all the strokes. He is the Anthony Powell of the crease, dancing to the music of batsmanship of the highest quality. Could they one day become another Hobbs and Sutcliffe? Or Hutton and Washbrook? Not yet, but who can tell what may follow the eventual retirement of Andrew Strauss from Test cricket? Cook and Bell?