Bell: 'It's disappointing not to back up our bowlers who were great again'


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At least the poor saps are aware of their flaws. They are not making any excuse about their wretched efforts against spin bowling, but then they are not getting any better at it either. They know they have completely betrayed the efforts of their bowlers. The poor bloody bowlers.

The total of wickets England have lost to slow bowlers this winter was brought to 56 yesterday with another abject performance, this time against Sri Lanka. This time the damage was inflicted by Rangana Herath and Suraj Randiv, canny operators both but never a duet to instil fear into batsmen of quality.

But England duly subsided. Five of the top seven were bamboozled by Herath, who took 6 for 74, his second-best performance in Tests. To say that England's batsmen had let down their bowlers was to understate the point. It might be a team game but if the two groups were not on speaking terms as the coach made its hour-long journey along the dusty motorway and back to the hotel last night, it would have been perfectly understandable.


"The scoreboard isn't going to lie," said Ian Bell, the only batsman to produce anything resembling a confident, authentic Test innings with 52, his best score of the winter. He too fell to Herath. "To get bowled out for under 200 isn't great on a wicket which to be honest didn't do too much. There was a bit more in it towards the end of the day."

Bell and all other members of a batting order that not long ago was being hailed as England's most effective must be aware that it cannot go on like this much longer. Selectors cannot continue picking batsmen for reasons of apparent class when their form is so hopeless. If England get out of this mess – and they might – it will be easier to delay the day of reckoning.

"It's not through lack of effort but it was disappointing not to back up our bowlers again who have been outstanding again for the fourth Test match this winter," said Bell. "After getting those two wickets in the morning to finish Sri Lanka's first innings, what we wanted to do was give those bowlers a good rest, like we did in Australia last winter. In a way we have let them down not to give them that time. But again they have shown their quality. It would have been easy to chase the game but they did not, they stuck to what they do best."

The feeling is that England are being confused not only by slow, turning pitches, which says something about the versatility of their batting, but by responding to the umpire decision review system. They are having to alter their method on the hoof and, palpably, it is not working.

"We're all trying to get better at playing spin and we all know we have to get better at playing on the sub-continent," said Bell. "It's a long-term goal, it is not going to just happen overnight. We're working as hard as we can to get better and better. You're a bit more aware that you have to play with your bat rather than using your pad. In general you have to be hitting more balls, you can't kick anything."

The perverse aspect of this is that England are still managing nicely to get their pads in the way. Another six of them were lbw yesterday, following the 22 who were given out that way in the United Arab Emirates against Pakistan. They may as well kick it away.

* If England lose the series to Sri Lanka they will also lose their ranking as the top Test-playing nation, thanks to South Africa's 1-0 series win in New Zealand yesterday. A drawn series would see England stay at No 1.

Kerrigan gives selectors early nod

There's not been much wrong with England's bowling for the last few years but if the selectors decide to jettison Monty Panesar because of his comical fielding and hapless batting, they could do a lot worse than turn to Lancashire's slow left-armer Simon Kerrigan.

The Preston-born twirler was among the wickets yesterday as the county champions Lancashire got the domestic season under way in the unlikely setting of Abu Dhabi, pink ball, floodlights and all.

Kerrigan took 4 for 65 as the MCC were dismissed for 265, despite another England left-arm tweaker (albeit a chunkier version) Ian Blackwell – hitting an unbeaten century.