Bell nudges England with timely century

Warwickshire 283 for 6 (Bell 130*, Woakes 66) lead Hampshire 202 (McLaren 85, Barker 5-53) by 81 runs

Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott put on 49 for the second wicket © PA Photos

This was not, as its maker would surely attest, a vintage Ian Bell century. It was, however, one of intelligence, importance, and no little inevitability; even lacking the fluency of his pomp, Bell looked better equipped than anyone to deal with a pitch where batsmen fear the new ball but little else – as the efforts of Keith Barker and then Fidel Edwards have shown. Indeed he ended his second day as a 34-year-old having seen off not one, but two new balls and some dirge in between.

Bell has just enjoyed his first winter off for a decade and a half and, while England have prospered in his absence, the cold reality is that this was a day that started with the news that in unforeseen, unfortunate and downright unhappy circumstances, another spot has opened up in the middle order he vacated before Christmas.

Thus the timing of this knock – one of economy over elegance and game awareness over ego – could not have been more apposite. While all the lovely moving parts remain, this was not the sheer sexiness of Bell at his best; it was gritty rather than pretty, as he spent 44 balls in the nineties, laboured for 150 deliveries over his second 50, and had only seven boundaries before he pulled a Will Smith long-hop beautifully along the floor through midwicket to bring up his century. He has scored centuries in the two Test matches held on this ground.

In the morning session, for a little under 40 minutes, Bell and his old mate Jonathan Trott, under the backdrop of perfect blue skies, carried us back to 2010 in sharing 49; Trott drove beautifully down the ground before falling to James Vince, caught by the only slip chasing a wide, looping half-volley. Bell added 49 more with the proto-Trott, Sam Hain, when Ryan McLaren had him strangled down the leg side.

Finally, with his team in some bother after Tim Ambrose looped to midwicket, the captain found an able lieutenant in Chris Woakes, who was watchful and rather staid early on, before unfurling cover drives and cuts to the new ball. The pair, who shared 151, were quite content patting all Hampshire threw at them, particularly Liam Dawson’s spin, straight back to the bowler. The reward for their patience was 52 from the new ball, before Woakes fell, plumb lbw, in the day’s final over.

First thing, Hampshire had walloped their way to a bonus point before promptly getting out – with Edwards following some briefly lusty hitting with fine, if erratic new-ball bowling. His sharp swing accounted for Ian Westwood – not offering a stroke – the Varun Chopra.

Out came Bell to enter his bubble. In scoring more than twice as many runs as the Hampshire top seven combined, he had crafted a position from which his team cannot lose the opening match of their season. With a lead that could easily swell in double quick time on the final morning (Warwickshire have the makers of 23 first-class centuries still waiting to bat), victory remains a possibility.

Will Macpherson writes on cricket for the Guardian, ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket. @willis_macp

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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