Bell's second century is ringing call to England selectors

<preform>Warks 410 and 352-7dec<br>Lancashire 412 and 194-4<br>Match drawn</preform>
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The Independent Online

Ian Bell had hardly struck a ball in first-class cricket before he was being hailed as the finest batsman of his generation, good enough virtually to walk straight into the England team and end Australia's world dominance almost single-handedly.

Ian Bell had hardly struck a ball in first-class cricket before he was being hailed as the finest batsman of his generation, good enough virtually to walk straight into the England team and end Australia's world dominance almost single-handedly.

As level-headed a 19-year-old as you are likely to come across, the fledgling Warwickshire batsman tried as best he could to ignore the absurd hyperbole. But there is little doubt that the development of his career suffered.

After all, when a batsman scores a century for England Under-19s before his 17th birthday and then, within two months in 2001, becomes the youngest (at 19 years 56 days) to score a first-class hundred and the youngest (at 19 years 115 days) to score a Championship hundred for his county, he gives himself an exceptionally high starting point. Failure, thereafter, comes easily.

Leaner times followed, inevitably. He added not one first-class century in 2002, averaging under 25, and only one last year. The hype turned decidedly negative. But this season is a different story.

Yesterday, as Warwickshire extended their Championship lead against a Lancashire side that needed to win, Bell made 181, the second-highest score of his career and his second century of the match.

He is the first Warwickshire player to achieve that feat in uncontrived circumstances since Brian Lara a decade ago. It was the fifth first-class hundred of his season, and three have come in his last four innings. In the other one, as Warwickshire beat Surrey at Guildford last week, Bell was unbeaten on 96.

During the lean times, Bell was allegedly told by Rodney Marsh, England's academy director and Test selector, to "go back to county cricket and score 2,000 runs in a season". So far this year, he has 1,334 in first-class games (average 78.47) and 1,669 in all. Questions are being answered.

Warwickshire continue to answer questions too. On the face of it they do not look good enough for the title, at least in the bowling, although Heath Streak's drawn-out stomach injury is not helping. But the strength of the batting makes them very difficult to beat.

By the time Bell's five-and-a-half-hour innings was ended - by a run-out of Brad Hogg's making, incidentally - they were almost impregnable. Despite another fine effort by Gary Keedy, whose intelligent left-arm spin accounted for nine wickets overall, it took a declaration at 353 for 7 to enable Lancashire to bat again.

But With Mal Loye unable to bat, a target of 352 in a minimum of 52 overs stretched the imagination. The India all-rounder Dinesh Mongia hit an unbeaten 108, his second century in half a dozen Championship innings, but a draw was the only outcome a long time before stumps.

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