Exhibition matches deserve exhibition cricket. Ian Bell fulfilled the brief impeccably in the Australian capital yesterday to ensure that England continued as they have proceeded for much of this star-spangled tour.
Opening the batting, he scored a glittering unbeaten 124 from 102 balls with an array of immaculate strokes which gave the tourists victory by seven wickets with nine balls to spare over the Prime Minister's XI here in Canberra. Julia Gillard, the Premier, was present throughout the rain-interrupted proceedings to see her side beaten. At least the problems besetting Australian cricket are now known at the very top.
The PM's side, full of bristling hopes for the future, made 254 for 9 from 43 overs (assisted by 16 wides, which was an uncharacteristic lack of discipline from a second-string England attack) and England replied with a Duckworth-Lewis 225 for 3 from 33.3 overs. Bell played as he has throughout the tour, with seamless authority.
The innings must have put him in contention for a place in the Twenty20 side for tomorrow's international against Australia in Adelaide. He has not played for England in the shortest form of the game since June 2008, when he made 60 not out at Old Trafford against New Zealand as the selectors sought a different direction.
On yesterday's form – nay, the form he has shown all winter – he would walk into any side playing any format. Not that Bell is assuming anything. After being dropped by England for six months in 2009 he remains anxious not to muck it up again.
"You're only as good as your last knock, so you have to keep training hard," he said. "I feel in good form but you can't sit back. There's a lot of hard work to do. I want to be part of this team in Test cricket and one-day cricket for a long time. There is competition for places and that's what we need. I don't mind where I bat. I feel a massive part of this squad and I will do anything that's asked of me."
What may be asked of him tomorrow is to open the batting ahead of the World Twenty20 winner, Michael Lumb. It would be tough on Lumb but he is out of form and Bell is in it.
There was a minor sub-plot to England's win, which might have eluded the Prime Minister. Dan Christian, the 27-year-old South Australian all-rounder, has just been signed by the Deccan Chargers in the Indian Premier League for $900,000 – $850,000 above his base price – while some of England's finest attracted no bids whatsoever.
Although he scored a heavy-hitting, run-a-ball fifty yesterday his medium-pace bowling was dismantled by Bell, one of the non-recruits, and he went for 60 in six overs. He looked, it should be said, nowhere near a million dollars.
Tim Paine, captain of the PM's XI and new vice-captain of the national T20 side, also scored a brisk half-century, full of good placement, but it always looked possible that they were under par on a good batting surface which improved as the sun began to peep through later on. Mike Yardy was the most economical of England's bowlers with 3 for 33 from nine overs. Bell, as his captain Paul Collingwood said, was clinical. England refuse to take their foot off the gas.
"We want to continue with the momentum of winning," said Collingwood. "I keep harping on about last time we were here, but last time we were here we got absolutely annihilated, and at this venue as well. It's a much better feeling when you come to a place like this and put on a performance like that."
So it was, but although the locals were content simply to see some star cricketers, the result will have done little good for the souls of Australian cricketers. There is much searching going on there at present
In his column in The Australian yesterday, Australia's captain, Ricky Ponting called for what amounted to root-and-branch reform. "There is a review after every season, of which I'm always a big part," Ponting wrote. "The performance of the elite team over the past few weeks has been very disappointing. But it's important we look a fair bit deeper into Australian cricket than just the last couple of weeks.
"It's going to be really interesting to see what the review brings up. I think the whole structure of Australian cricket needs looking at. We've got to look at our state cricket. It appears as though we're not producing enough high-quality Test cricketers." It was mere frippery but probably nobody at the Manuka Oval yesterday disagreed.
Prime Minister's XI v England
Tour match (one day), Manuka Oval: England beat Prime Minister's XI by seven wickets (D/L Method)
Prime Minister's XI won toss
PRIME MINISTER'S XI
Runs 6s 4s Bls Min
*†T D Paine lbw b Yardy 50 1 5 60 70
U T Khawaja c & b Tredwell 22 1 1 26 56
C J Ferguson b Shahzad 39 0 1 50 79
A R Keath lbw b Yardy 15 0 2 19 15
D T Christian c Pietersen b Shahzad 53 1 4 53 79
D J Thornton c & b Yardy 5 0 0 6 7
S P Miller c Collingwood b Woakes 7 0 1 12 12
B Lee not out 26 0 3 18 36
X J Doherty b Shahzad 14 0 1 12 21
J L Pattinson c Wright b Woakes 6 0 1 3 3
T A Copeland not out 0 0 0 0 1
Extras (w17) 17
Total (9 wkts, 43 overs) 254
Fall: 1-75, 2-86, 3-108, 4-167, 5-179, 6-198, 7-204, 8-239, 9-247.
Bowling: C R Woakes 9-0-63-2, A Shahzad 9-0-61-3, L J Wright 3-0-21-0, J C Tredwell 8-0-45-1, M J Yardy 9-0-33-3, P D Collingwood 3-0-15-0, K P Pietersen 2-0-16-0.
Runs 6s 4s Bls Min
I R Bell not out 124 1 13 102 179
†S M Davies c Ferguson b Doherty 24 0 2 32 52
I J L Trott c Paine b Doherty 48 0 5 55 95
K P Pietersen lbw b Lee 13 0 0 14 22
E J G Morgan not out 0 0 0 1 2
Extras (lb2 w11 nb3) 16
Total (3 wkts, 33.3 overs) 225
Fall: 1-82, 2-180, 3-219.
Did not bat: *P D Collingwood, L J Wright, M J Yardy, J C Tredwell, A Shahzad, C R Woakes.
Bowling: B Lee 6-0-35-1, T A Copeland 7-0-47-0, X J Doherty 7-0-38-2, J L Pattinson 7-0-37-0, D T Christian 6.3-0-66-0.
Umpires: S D Fry and A I Shelly.Reuse content