Bell makes the most of early start

Sussex 200 MCC 166-3

A couple of years ago, Ian Bell was a golden boy. He won the man-of-the-match award in the 2002 Benson & Hedges Cup final at this venue and mentions in despatches from watching England selectors as he piled up runs with consummate ease.

A couple of years ago, Ian Bell was a golden boy. He won the man-of-the-match award in the 2002 Benson & Hedges Cup final at this venue and mentions in despatches from watching England selectors as he piled up runs with consummate ease.

Then, last season, nothing. He was even overtakenby his Warwickshire team-mate Jim Troughton, who made a fistful of one-day international appearances for England.

The promise Bell had shown as a precocious England Under-19 player looked to have been hollow. Something looks to have changed over the winter however, and yesterday Bell, who will be 22 tomorrow, looked a different player - assured, unflappable and a league above his fellow would-be England players. Sussex were given a ringside view of just how good (and awkward) Bell can be as he compiled a patient and ominously trouble-free half-century.

He was a key component of an MCC team that bulged with potential. The quality was enough to bring a jet-lagged David Graveney to headquarters. England's chairman of selectors had just flown in from the West Indies and was running an early eye over the likes of Kevin Pietersen, Alastair Cook, Alex Gidman and James Foster.

Providing Graveney was able to stay awake in the sunshine he would have been heartened by what he saw when Bell emerged to shore up a rocky start before taking charge of affairs to leave the County Champions looking a little sick.

Cook and Pietersen must have felt a bit down as well when they saw an early opportunity elude them. Kent's Robert Key also failed to make the right kind of impression but he was in good company, along with the bulk of the Sussex batting.

With the exception of the opener Richard Montgomerie, the Champions looked anything but. Some steady seam bowling from Graham Napier, controlled off-spin by James Tredwell and a sharp performance behind the stumps from Foster - two catches and an unseasonably early stumping - contributed to a disappointing Sussex total.

The pitch was blameless, low, slowish, perhaps giving the seamers a touch of encouragement and the batsmen a thoughtful moment or two, but there was nothing out of the ordinary in it. Not for the time of year, anyway.

This is the earliest start to the domestic season, beating the previous wake-up call by three days. It will also probably have served as an early alarm call to Sussex.

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