Bell provides plenty to chew on in England's opening debate
Broken jaw no problem as century-maker shows his quality in sweeping aside West Indies
In little more than a year England have fielded seven opening batting partnerships. Perm any two from as many as you like, it has sometimes seemed, as the selectors' pin has landed on yet another poor unfortunate.
The latest pairing might, just, be the one to take them places. This may seem a strange deduction since Alastair Cook and Ian Bell put on precisely nought for the first wicket in the first one-day international of the summer, against West Indies, on Saturday.
Cook departed to the third ball of the innings, which placed an immediate responsibility on Bell to hang around to instigate a repair job in his latest return to the limited-overs scene. He did rather more than that with a sublime 126, only the second century he had scored in 109 ODIs but one so accomplished and measured in texture that it made anyone watching wonder why he had not been performing this role for at least five years.
England made 288 for six, the fulcrum being the second-wicket partnership of 108 between Bell and the stoic Jonathan Trott, and they won by 114 runs with their typically masterful bowlers having something in hand.
Tim Bresnan was the most successful with four for 34, and although both Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad paradoxically looked a little weary after being rested for the Third Test, it could probably have been any of them. The second match is at The Oval tomorrow and the tourists have some catching up to do if they are to compete as they and everybody else expected.
It was the fifth consecutive one-day match in which one of England's openers had scored a hundred, an unprecedented sequence which started with Cook's two centuries against Pakistan in the UAE and continued with Kevin Pietersen's couple against the same opponents. Never before have England registered hundreds in more than three ODIs in a row – that came when Ed Joyce and Paul Collingwood, twice, scored them in Australia in early 2007.
With Pietersen gone to pastures new, if not quite out to pasture, after spurning the opportunity to lead England into a brave new world at the top of the order, the selectors turned again to Bell.
It is a measure of England's perennial uncertainty of how the innings should be opened in one-day cricket that this was actually a reunion for Cook and Bell. They opened in one match together in 2008, putting on 53 against New Zealand.
The change to two new balls being used from the start of the innings has made a difference to thinking. Before this amended regulation, the ball was changed compulsorily after 34 overs. Now neither of the balls is ever older than 25 overs and it demands, certainly at the beginning of the innings, a corresponding proficiency of technique. Both Cook and Bell supply this with knobs on and in home conditions (and perhaps in the next World Cup in Australia in 2015) both can prosper.
The balance between getting on with it and staying in will be their hardest challenge. They will also need time and faith as they knuckle down to the job.
Bell was quietly magisterial through the 117 balls his innings lasted on Saturday. There was no particularly remarkable stroke because almost all of them were outstanding. West Indies thought they had him caught behind when he was 23 and whilst the snickometer showed something, the hotspot camera did not and the doubt was persuasive.
The innings was a glittering advertisement for old-fashioned virtues in which high class orthodoxy was in its pomp. That it all looked so effortless made it the more charming. There were 12 fours and a six and plenty of alert running.
Quite how well Bell might have played had he not been suffering from the effects of a blow to the chin which had caused a cut requiring 10 stitches as well as a non-displaced fracture may be enough to give West Indies a fit of the vapours.
At the start of their reply, the tourists looked as if they might threaten the target. They bludgeoned their way to 95 for one with Dwayne Smith especially ferocious, but England's bowlers kept coming at them. It is not easy to keep taking liberties and the chase had foundered before rain held up play for an hour, necessitating an adjusted target. Too few batsmen looked capable of assembling an innings.
At 1-0 up and having had a sighter of the opposition, England will fancy their chances of winning this series, possibly as early as tomorrow. West Indies need to regroup quickly and their much-touted spinner Sunil Narine must rediscover his mystery element.
Australia arrived at the weekend for their series of five one-day matches against England, which starts next week. Whatever else happens against West Indies, that will be a different proposition altogether for Bell, Cook and everybody else.
Ageas Bowl scoreboard
The Ageas Bowl (One Day): England beat West Indies by 114 runs (D/L Method)
West Indies won toss
*A N Cook c Ramdin b Rampaul 0
I R Bell c Ramdin b D J Bravo 126
117 balls 1 six 12 fours
I J L Trott c Ramdin b Narine 42
66 balls 3 fours
R S Bopara c Ramdin b Samuels 8
E J G Morgan b Samuels 21
25 balls 2 fours
†C Kieswetter not out 38
39 balls 3 fours
T T Bresnan run out 21
21 balls 2 fours
S C J Broad not out 22
15 balls 1 six 1 four
Extras (w9 nb1) 10
Total (for 6, 50 overs) 288
Fall: 1-0, 2-108, 3-136, 4-187, 5-216, 6-245.
Did Not Bat: G P Swann, S T Finn, J M Anderson.
Bowling: R Rampaul 10-0-68-1, A D Russell 6-0-43-0, S P Narine 10-0-47-1, D J G Sammy 6-0-32-0, D J Bravo 9-0-55-1, M N Samuels 9-0-43-2.
L M P Simmons b Anderson 15
16 balls 2 fours
D R Smith c Kieswetter b Bresnan 56
44 balls 2 sixes 6 fours
†D Ramdin lbw b Bresnan 22
M N Samuels c Swann b Anderson 30
30 balls 3 fours
D J Bravo lbw b Finn 8
7 balls 1 four
K A Pollard c Morgan b Broad 3
*D J G Sammy c Bopara b Swann 11
16 balls 1 four
A D Russell c Morgan b Bresnan 7
13 balls 1 four
D M Bravo not out 8
13 balls 1 four
R Rampaul c Trott b Swann 9
10 balls 1 four
S P Narine c Kieswetter b Bresnan 0
Extras (w3) 3
Total (33.4 overs) 172
Fall: 1-25, 2-95, 3-102, 4-118, 5-127, 6-137, 7-155, 8-157, 9-172.
Bowling: J M Anderson 8-0-48-2, S T Finn 6-0-29-1, T T Bresnan 7.4-0-34-4, S C J Broad 8-0-40-1, G P Swann 4-0-21-2.
Umpires: H D P K Dharmasena and R A Kettleborough.
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