Collingwood and Bell find strength in ailing format

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The Independent Online

If authority can be attached to Kevin Pietersen's prognosis for international cricket, the 50-over form of the game will be facing extinction within a couple of years, thanks to an insatiable appetite for Twenty20.

Nonetheless, a 17,000 sell-out here yesterday did not suggest an immediate decline in popularity. There are a couple of England batsmen, too, who are quite grateful that the conventional one-day international is still part of the calendar.

A week ago, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood celebrated England's victory in the Test series against New Zealand with slightly heavy hearts, their joy at the team's achievement tempered by their own marginal contributions to it. With South Africa likely to offer fewer places to hide in their struggle for runs, there was no pretending that their involvement in the second part of the summer Test schedule was guaranteed.

How much better they must feel this morning. After their collective aggregate of 76 runs in the Tests, each managed to loosen his shoulders and cast inhibitions to one side in a way that seemed to herald a timely return to form.

In a broader context they were merely the supporting acts to Pietersen's show-stealing eccentricity, but Bell's 46 will have further reinforced the confidence he began to rebuild in the Twenty20 match at Old Trafford last Friday, while Collingwood's 64 in front of his own Durham county audience ended a dreadful run of low scores so emphatically it almost doubled his total for the season.

Bell was both lucky and unlucky. Asked to open for the first time since last year's World Cup, he gloved a catch behind from the first delivery of the match, only to be reprieved when Kyle Mills was ruled to have overstepped. Then, having dispatched the free hit cleanly over the top of mid-off, he began quickly to progress as if nothing had ever been wrong.

At times, notably with the late dab outside off stump that twice brought him boundaries off Michael Mason, his touch looked sublime. He could consider himself hard done by, then, by the manner of his dismissal, responding understandably late to Pietersen's call from the non-striker's end as Mason appealed for leg before. Bell was still a foot from safety when Ross Taylor's throw hit the stumps.

Even so, it had been a satisfactory return to the top of the order for the Warwickshire player, whose record coming in first in England's 50-over side stands comparison with his performances in his regular slot at No 3. Perhaps more importantly, with the next five-day series in mind, he won his first head-to-head with Ravi Bopara, a pretender to the No 6 role in the Test side, with some comfort.

Collingwood, perhaps, needs to worry about Andrew Flintoff more than Bopara, but while the first Test against South Africa may come too soon for the recovering Lancashire player, the pot of gold waiting for the 11 men picked to contest Sir Allen Stanford's inaugural $20m (£10.3m) challenge is still four and a half months away.

Collingwood, England's one-day captain, took guard having managed 70 runs from 10 innings this season. After getting off the mark to his first ball, from Scott Styris, he hit consecutive boundaries in the all-rounder's next over. Taking inspiration from Pietersen at the other end, he went from strength to strength.

New Zealand's bowling was not much to write home about. Yet the pressure on Bell and Collingwood will have scarcely felt lighter for that. In their personal struggles, this may have been a significant day.