England take initiative after bizarre Bell run out

England 221 & 441-6 v India 288 - England lead by 374 runs
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The Independent Online

Ian Bell survived one of international cricket's most bizarre incidents on his way to an exemplary 159 as England regained the initiative in the second npower Test at Trent Bridge.

Bell already had an outstanding 15th Test century under his belt. But when he appeared to be run out in highly controversial circumstances, England's advantage over India was still tenuous in a seesaw contest which was to reach stumps on day three with the hosts on a second-innings 441 for six and 374 in front.

Bell was given out on 137, after a protracted discussion between umpires Marais Erasmus and Asad Rauf, having already made his way off for tea following the final ball of the afternoon.

The ruling attracted a hostile and noisy crowd reaction as the tourists returned to the field on the resumption, until Bell was spotted striding back out after them to bat again with Eoin Morgan.

Twenty-five minutes earlier, Bell had grounded his bat for a third run - after Morgan flicked Ishant Sharma to deep square-leg - and walked off to reflect on what had previously been a highly encouraging afternoon for England.

Instead, it transpired Praveen Kumar had clumsily managed to stop the ball going for four - Rauf never signalled a boundary - and then threw it back for Abhinav Mukund to apparently complete a highly unusual dismissal.

It seemed the repercussions of the incident were sure to rumble on - notably with regard to the International Cricket Council's emphasis on the spirit of the game.

But those prospects of lingering ill-feeling were averted once Bell was granted his reprieve, after England coach Andy Flower and captain Andrew Strauss asked their India counterparts to retract their appeal.

After a five-minute consultation with their team during the remainder of the tea interval, Duncan Fletcher and captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni agreed to do so.

It was doubtless a diplomatic triumph on their part - although whether the 1.2 billion back home will see it that way is another matter.

Bell managed only another 22 runs, but he and Morgan (70) added 69 more together to help England turn a handy lead into one which surely gives them better than even prospects of going 2-0 up on the world's number one team with two to play.

Before his first 'dismissal' Bell had pushed perfection in a wonderful innings - barely playing a false stroke in a 50 stand with Strauss, one of 162 with Kevin Pietersen (63) and then 104 with Morgan. Bell rose above the tension of the tussle for a game-breaking advantage with a series of neat cuts and flicks off his legs.

He ran well too on the way to his fourth Test hundred in his last nine innings, to rotate the strike with clever singles short or just wide of the fielders on the square.

England were still 10 runs behind when Strauss fell this morning to an innocuous delivery from Shantha Sreesanth - pushing away from his body and edging a routine catch behind.

It was the fourth consecutive innings, in a frustrating sequence of scores for Strauss at the start of this series, that he has got in but failed to better 32.

England therefore needed Bell to make the most of his reconnaissance, and he did not put a foot wrong on the way to and beyond a 129-ball hundred which arrived in mid-afternoon.

Pietersen was conspicuously less assured in a fretful start to his innings but made sure he did not succumb to Yuvraj Singh when Dhoni decided it was worth two overs from the occasional slow left-armer to test the England number four's mettle and ego.

Pietersen's share of the 50 stand with Bell was just 11 runs, and it was not until the penultimate over before lunch that he paddle-swept Harbhajan Singh for his first boundary from the 52nd ball he faced.

But no England supporters were complaining about any of that as their team jockeyed a position which became ever more favourable.

Pietersen went when he edged a swish behind off Sreesanth, yet all was still well with the hosts - especially after Bell's recall.

He was eventually out for good, edging to slip off Yuvraj, and it was much to India's credit that a succession of their players - beginning with Mukund - made a point of congratulating him on his fine innings.

Kumar then quickly accounted for both Morgan and Jonathan Trott with the second new ball.

Morgan had brought up his 50 with a straight six off the out-of-sorts Harbhajan, but edged behind when Kumar got one to leave him off the pitch.

Trott, nursing a shoulder joint injury after his tumble in the field yesterday which had prevented him batting at number three, arrived instead at number seven and could muster only two runs before edging a brute of a delivery from Kumar to slip.

But England's premier counter-attacker Matt Prior (64 not out) bagged a 38-ball half-century, containing seven fours and a hooked six off Sreesanth, to dominate an unbroken century stand with Tim Bresnan and ensure India will have to achieve a ground record chase if they are to level the series after all.