The lack of pace and the amount of turn in an Old Trafford pitch that was supposed to be a fast, bouncy flyer surprised just about everyone yesterday. But the identity of the man who stayed around to make some hay came as no shock at all.
When bad light ended play half an hour early here last night, Ian Bell had taken his average across six Tests against Bangladesh to a shade under 200, and he was homing in on a third century over the same distance. More important, these latest runs were of the hard and badly needed variety, scored when England wanted someone to chisel as well as carve.
No one has ever doubted Bell's technique. But plenty have accused him of filling his boots while the going is easy, only to sink without trace when the team are crying out for an innings of substance. Well, the Warwickshire batsman has toughened up during recent series against Australia and South Africa – and yesterday's unbeaten 87 was another of those coming of age knocks.
"I missed out at Lord's last week [when he scored only 17] and the situation here demanded someone got stuck in," said Bell, who walked to the crease with England 83 for 3 and then stood firm while both Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan fell by the wayside. "That was the more important thing for me – scoring runs when the team needed them. Hopefully, over the past six months I've played more of those innings that people want from me, and hopefully this is another step in the right direction.
"In the past I've probably played some very nice innings, but not when it really mattered. If I get the opportunity in Australia this winter then I'll have the experience to fall back on. There is a lot of cricket before the Ashes but the more I keep doing this then that will be good for me and good for the team."
Bangladesh are not Australia. Indeed, they are not even Australia B. But they are making a habit of stretching England, and yesterday the tourists would have taken the honours but for Bell's diligence.
"The pitch has taken us a little bit by surprise," said the England No 5. "The amount of turn on day one meant the conditions were a bit more helpful for them than we thought they would be. But they made us work very hard."
Only while Bell and Pietersen were adding 70 for the fourth wicket did it look as though England might get clean away. But then Pietersen sparked another national debate about his wayward batting habits by going down the pitch and being stumped by a distance. Plenty will criticise him for hot-headedness, but not Bell.
"I thought Kev was fantastic in shifting the momentum back to us," said the man of the day. "He gave us an opportunity to put Bangladesh on the back foot, and that was a difficult thing to do on that pitch. We could have dug ourselves into a bit of a hole if we had tried to play negatively. I think it was a good cameo and the ball did turn quite big when he got out. He had hit some great shots along the way."
Barring a truly ghastly run of form, Pietersen's place in the next Ashes series can be taken for granted. But not many others in and around the side can say the same – which is why Bell can look back on yesterday with fondness. "I feel massively part of this side, I always have done, but we all know we have to keep working hard, individually as well as a team," he said.Reuse content