Ian Bell defied medical convention yesterday. A crack on the chin can severely affect your appetite but Bell, accompanied by 10 stitches and a non-displaced fracture, had the West Indies for breakfast.
Elevated to open the innings in one-day internationals for the seventh time since he began playing them eight years ago, he assembled his second century. There will not be a more delightful one this summer by any batsman in any form of the game unless Bell plays it.
His 126 in the first of three matches against the tourists came from 117 balls and contained not an ugly, ungainly or unwieldy stroke. There was almost no departure from the text book either but the cover driving, the cutting, the pulling, the lofted hits, the back foot push, the delicate nudge to third man were a form of cricketing ecstasy.
It did not quite inure England from defeat as they failed to find the expected acceleration in the last 10 overs following Bell's dismissal but it did not deserve to be in a losing cause. Nor was it, as West Indies' array of big hitters never quite came to terms with the demands of the chase and they stumbled from 95 to one to 172 all out.
The result was distorted by rain which reduced the tourists' reply to 48 overs, but by then a cluster of wickets had already put them well adrift of the required rate and they went down by 114 runs. Tim Bresnan took four wickets in a match for the third time and there were 14 overs left.
Of course, it would not do to exaggerate the classical nature of Bell's construction. He played strokes that batsmen always used to play, except these were on the most rarefied level. But in an age of switch hitting, scoop shots, flicks, nudges and downright power, this was impeccable.
Bell played early and he played late, his footwork was precise, his shots measured in placement and pace. Had Kevin Pietersen (who tweeted his congratulations from Johannesburg, ending with his trademark #boom) not retired from the limited overs fray, Bell might not have been recalled. He had opened the innings for England 27 times before, in seven spells which have included two World Cups, a Champions Trophy and a sequence of 15 matches in 2008.
But one-day cricket has been denied the full luxury of his talent in a way that once might have happened to Test cricket. Having rectified one he might do likewise in the other. Not that his new partnership with Alastair Cook had time to prosper. Cook was out to the third ball of the match, edging behind a ball that went across him, after which Bell and Jonathan Trott ensured that there was no further mishap.
Trott never moved from second gear, as is his wont, but appeared set for the duration when he supplied Denesh Ramdin with the first of his four catches with a thinly edged cut. Ravi Bopara hustled briefly, Eoin Morgan, his bottom not as close to the ground as it was on last viewing, also bristled. With Bell's departure, undone rather tamely with a leading edge to a low full toss, England were left scurrying for morsels. The boom factor, as Pietersen might put it, was absent, though both Craig Kieswetter and Bresnan went along at a run a ball.
West Indies began at the gallop. Dwayne Smith, playing his first ODI for two years, was swifter than Bell, much more brutal, nowhere near as aesthetically pleasing. He took the place of Chris Gayle, whose return was delayed because of a stress reaction in the leg.
Smith could not sustain the pace and England's high class seamers applied the brakes and the pressure. Rain interrupted for an hour but by then West Indies were five down. The resumption offered no solace as England ran through the talk for their fifth consecutive one-day victory.
There were five changes in their side, including Bell who played despite the gashed jaw from a top edged cut in the nets the day before. If there were ill-effects West Indies could be in real trouble when he might have them for lunch and dinner as well.
Samit Patel, Jonny Bairstow and Jade Dernbach will play for their counties in Twenty20 matches today before rejoining England tomorrow. Patel had to fly from Southampton to Newcastle last night to play for Nottinghamshire in Chester-le-Street and Bairstow was driving to Leeds and back to play for Yorkshire.
Rose Bowl scoreboard
West Indies won toss
Balls 4 6
*A N Cook c Ramdin b Rampaul 0300
I R Bell c Ramdin b D J Bravo 126117121
I J L Trott c Ramdin b Narine 426630
R S Bopara c Ramdin b Samuels 81500
E J G Morgan b Samuels 212520
†C Kieswetter not out 383930
T T Bresnan run out 212120
S C J Broad not out 221511
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: Rampaul 10-0-68-1; Russell 6-0-43-0; Narine 10-0-47-1; Sammy 6-0-32-0; D J Bravo 9-0-55-1; Samuels 9-0-43-2.
Balls 4 6
L M P Simmons b Anderson 151620
D R Smith c Kieswetter b Bresnan 564462
†D Ramdin lbw b Bresnan 223800
M N Samuels c Swann b Anderson 303030
D J Bravo lbw b Finn 8710
K A Pollard c Morgan b Broad 31100
*D J G Sammy c Bopara b Swann 111610
A D Russell c Morgan b Bresnan 71310
D M Bravo not out 81310
R Rampaul c Trott b Swann 91010
S P Narine c Kieswetter b Bresnan 0400
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: Anderson 8-0-48-2; Finn 6-0-29-1; Bresnan 7.4-0-34-4; Broad 8-0-40-1; Swann 4-0-21-2.
Umpires: H D P K Dharmasena (SL) and R A Kettleborough (Eng).
TV Umpire: AL Hill (NZ). Match referee: J Crowe (NZ)
England win by 114 runs (D/L method)
Man of the match: Ian Bell (England)Reuse content