Bell praises Strauss's spectacular 158 as 'best England knock I've seen'

No 4 batsman believes his captain's complete innings shows their side can go on to achieve impressive things in the World Cup
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The Independent Online

Sometimes a match comes along that has everything but the kitchen sink. The World Cup encounter between India and England at Bangalore on Sunday night was so far into that territory that an intervention from Armitage or Shanks seemed inevitable at any moment.

It had runs, 676 of them, the highest aggregate in World Cup history, and two memorable innings, one on either side, that will endure down the ages. It had 18 wickets embracing two spectacular bowling spells.

There were magnificent catches, run-outs, controversy and dramatic, sudden shifts in fortune until the last possible moment. And it finished in a tie, the scores level at 338 each, every man on both teams, all 38,000 spectators and growing millions watching on television and listening on radio, drained.

The fashion of the day is to suggest that any close or particularly exciting sporting contest is the best there has ever been. This group B match was not quite that, before anybody asks, but it single-handedly brought the 10th World Cup alive and can be offered in evidence to the fools – including those from the England and Wales Cricket Board and many other cricket authorities round the world – who think that 50-over cricket is a busted flush.

If it restored hope for the competition it also revived England's prospects in it. Any side who can continue chasing 339 to win against the host nation before a loudly partisan audience, willing their heroes to prevail, are serious contenders.

Sachin Tendulkar's hundred was his 47th in one-day internationals and as pristine as the rest. The late bowling interventions of Tim Bresnan, who took four wickets in 10 balls and became only the second England player to take five in a World Cup innings, and Zaheer Khan, who took three in six for India to change the course of the match again, were both persuasive pieces of inordinate skill which demonstrated that bowlers have a place no matter the runs being scored.

But it was the contribution of the man who has done so much to guide this England side in the past two years that continued to tug at the sporting heartstrings yesterday. When he assumed the captaincy in January 2009, Andrew Strauss was not in the one-day side, dropped after his struggles in the 2007 World Cup.





He was restored because England needed unity then and that, more than aptitude for the short forms of the game, was the overriding factor. As recently as last summer a panel of the great and good rather smartly omitted Strauss from their theoretical World Cup squads. They knew it would not happen but they were making the point that the old boy's game was not up to it on the slow pitches of the subcontinent and that his captaincy was not great enough shakes to matter.

On both counts they were wrong. Strauss's captaincy is based less on instinct than a quiet assurance that plans are put in place for a purpose. He is both respected and liked. His batting has been transformed.

That was much evident on his return to the side after a two-year break, when he scored an attacking century against the West Indies in his second match. But his endeavours on Sunday elevated him to a different plane, cutting, pulling, sweeping and playing shots down the ground with adept use of feet.

As Ian Bell, his partner in a third-wicket stand of 170, said yesterday: "It was the best knock I have seen for a long, long time and probably the best knock I have ever seen from an England player. It had everything.

"He hit his boundaries when he wanted to, he rotated the strike, he played his sweeps and he looked very hard to bowl to. If you have a player like that at the top of the order I think that really holds us in good stead. It really was a template of how you play a proper one-day innings. He has done that for a while now and certainly for the rest of us if we can play like that and take that role and go on and get that big hundred, it will help us in this competition big time."

England's attention must now turn to Ireland tomorrow and if the fixture does not have quite the resonance of playing India on their home soil it has enough. Everybody wants to beat England and Ireland long ago ceased to be anybody's patsies.

Many of their players have County Championship experience and their 18-year-old left-arm spinner George Dockrell looks like another who will cross the Irish Sea to chase fame and fortune. If England were to stumble after their titanic efforts against India it would be a surprise and they would seem to have too many runs in the locker.

The fitness of Stuart Broad, who missed the India match with a virulent stomach bug, is still uncertain. England may well choose to leave him out if his body has been weakened. Ajmal Shazad, his replacement, bowled with zip and intelligence on Sunday.

If there is a worry it concerns Jimmy Anderson, the attack leader, who conceded 91 from 9.5 overs following returns in two of the previous three matches of 0 for 72 against the Netherlands and 1 for 91 against Australia. It is hard for bowlers but it cannot continue to be that hard for the attack's leader. Strauss is aware of it but he said: "Anybody writing off Jimmy Anderson would be pretty naïve."

What England, though not Ireland, need now is a pleasant stroll to victory and two comfortable points. What they do not need is another heart-stopper.

* Bresnan has been officially reprimanded under the ICC's code of conduct for hitting the stumps with his bat after being bowled by Piyush Chawla in the match between England and India. The match referee, Roshan Mahanama, said that he took account of the fact that Bresnan had apologised and it was a first offence. "However, there is no room for this type of action in our great sport," he said. England's players have also been fined 10 per cent of their match fee and captain Strauss 20 per cent of his for a slow over rate in the tie.

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