Bell tempers his patience with precision

Warwickshire 177-2 v Sussex

It had been billed as the match that could decide the destiny of the County Championship; Warwickshire, pretenders to the crown, against Sussex, on whose collective head said crown has lain uneasily until the latter part of this campaign.

It had been billed as the match that could decide the destiny of the County Championship; Warwickshire, pretenders to the crown, against Sussex, on whose collective head said crown has lain uneasily until the latter part of this campaign.

Sussex, with a game in hand over their rivals, arrived here on the back of two victories - or more accurately on the back of two 10-wicket hauls by their Pakistan leg spinner Mushtaq Ahmed - which had lifted them out of the relegation zone.

Warwickshire, who have led the First Division since late May, bring a 37-point lead into this game and are favourites, but so little separates the chasing pack that a couple of wins can transform any side into title contenders.

The leaders had another advantage - the return of England's Ian Bell, who added steel to their batting. He emerged in the ninth over when Mohammad Akram had found the edge of Mark Wagh's bat after rain had forced a 30-minute delay to the start.

Rain also affected most of an afternoon in which Bell was a model of prudence and patience. Rashness is not a character trait of his, which explains why, in his previous six innings his lowest score was the 70 he made on his Test debut. He punished every bad ball but managed, most of the time, to resist temptation when presented with a good delivery.

That is not to say he was not beaten by the ball. James Kirtley beat Bell, and his captain and second-wicket partner Nick Knight, a number of times.

But the pair survived, to the tune of 141 runs in 41 fascinating overs as the contest between bat and ball swayed first one way then the other. Knight eventually fell pushing at the first ball of Akram's spell late in the day and a tumbling Ian Ward snapped up the low chance. Knight had spent more than three hours at the crease, during which time he had passed 50 for the 10th time this season.

But Bell batted on, passing 1,600 runs for the season in all first class matches and to become, albeit temporarily, the country's leading scorer. But more importantly he had batted Warwickshire into an authoritative position.

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