Bell finds form before strange return of the dead sheep stroll

By now, Ian Bell should be a national hero as well as an MBE. There is a distinct difference, and in his case the gap has been widening. Whenever he walks out to bat the movement in the crowd is less a ripple of anticipation than a shrug of the shoulders.

Bell has become the personification of under-achievement. Possessed of abundant natural gifts (which appear sometimes, it is true, to have been coached to the point of extinction) he is also possessed by a diffidence that somehow makes him afraid to use them.

Too often, when bowlers have Bell at the other end they must know the meaning of being mauled by a dead sheep. But intermittently he shows what all the fuss has been about since he was first spotted as a 12-year-old. Yesterday was one of those days.

If South Africa came to The Oval intent on redemption for their miserable form in the one-day series so far, Bell swiftly demonstrated that the road to redemption requires precise navigational skills. He was not about to show them the way through, he was about to set England's course to an improbable series-winning 3-0 lead.

He was merciless in the first 10 overs of England's innings. But this was not improvised, bottom-handed, cross-batted butchery. It was extremely high-class assured orthodox batsmanship in which the movement of the feet and the quality of the timing were key elements.

In short, it was a pleasure to behold. Bell hit 11 fours and a six, taking full advantage of the power plays. His 50 came in a mere 36 balls and there seemed reason to suppose that he could continue in this vein. Dead sheep have their day. But then he changed. The next 23 runs required 41 balls. It was as if he decided that he had taken the venom from the tourists and now "Mr Diffident" was tapping him on the shoulder again.

Bell's figures in one-day cricket, as in Test cricket, tell only half the story. He has an average of 36, on the lower side of respectable. But this was his first half-century in 11 innings and only his second in 23. Not good enough. Not by half.

He should have made his second one-day hundred and perhaps the change in gears did for him as much as Johann Botha's regulation off-spin. England had the flier they craved, however, and for the suddenly beleaguered tourists there could be no return. They want home and they want it urgently.

It has been a long three years for Bell since he was gonged up, so to speak, as 12 of them were when England regained the Ashes. In that contest he was offered a leading role, but was never much more than a supporting actor.

Since then, if at long intervals, many corners have been turned only to find another brick wall to run in to on the other side. If only yesterday's endeavours might lead to the sunlit uplands, England would have a hero all right.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn