Flintoff flays tourists again after Bell makes fine first impression

England 313-5 v West Indies

The redevelopment of the Vauxhall End at The Oval may be 10 months from completion, but the new stand's foundations appear as solid and reliable as the batting line-up that England are developing.

The redevelopment of the Vauxhall End at The Oval may be 10 months from completion, but the new stand's foundations appear as solid and reliable as the batting line-up that England are developing.

Michael Vaughan's conquering side were not at their best here yesterday, on the first day of the fourth Test, yet they still find themselves well placed on 313 for 5.

For this they can thank the debutant, Ian Bell, who added his name to the ever-growing list of quality batsmen England can now call on. The Warwickshire right-hander failed to match the performances of Andrew Strauss and Robert Key, who scored 112 and 221 in their first innings for England this summer, but looked a class act during his chanceless 70.

Good players are easy to spot. They look assured at the crease, play deliveries with the minimum of fuss and seldom look rushed. Bell showed during the two and a half hours he spent in the middle that he possesses a good technique, sound temperament and a wide range of strokes.

England's selectors have a tough decision to make when they pick their winter squad for South Africa over the weekend. Only two out of Bell, Key and Mark Butcher are likely to make the final 16, yet all three are worthy of a place.

It was just as well for England that Bell, Vaughan and Andrew Flintoff were prepared to battle it out against a much improved West Indian bowling attack. Strauss, Marcus Trescothick and Key were each guilty of playing lazy shots - errors which reduced their side to 64 for 3.

The events of the next four days will show just how important Bell and Vaughan's 146-run partnership is, but without it England would now have little chance of emulating Percy Chapman's team of 1928-29, the last England side to win seven consecutive Test matches.

Having worked themselves into a strong position, both fell with a century there for the taking, but this gave a capacity crowd a chance to lap up another powerful display from Flintoff. The Lancashire all-rounder made the most of a tiring attack and his unbeaten 72 contained 13 thunderous boundaries.

England were on exactly the same score as this after the first day at Edgbaston, with Flintoff and Geraint Jones not out overnight. The game was there to be taken, but the West Indian bowling was dire and England went on to declare on 566 for 9. Brian Lara will demand, and need, a much-improved performance today if his side are to avoid a whitewash.

Bell had little time to prepare for the biggest innings of his career. When Trescothick clipped a simple catch to Ramnaresh Sarwan at square leg he would have quietly returned to his corner of the dressing-room to put his gear on and compose himself. But he only had four balls in which to do it after Key edged a horrible shot through to the wicketkeeper, Carlton Baugh.

Bell looked nervous when he arrived at the crease and survived a close shout for lbw off the first ball he faced. Ranjan Madugalle, the match referee, did little to help him relax. Having spotted a piece of advertising on Bell's forearm guard, he sent England's twelfth man out with some tape to cover it up.

But it was Bell's right shoulder and not the errant piece of protective equipment which felt the full force of a Fidel Edwards thunderbolt. The Bajan was in the middle of a hostile spell and he was attempting to test the courage of the newcomer. Bell sought treatment from the England physiotherapist after the blow, but never took a backward step. A first run proved elusive and he had to wait until his 12th delivery to get off the mark. The shot, a carve over the slips for four, was not the most convincing way to open your international account, but it proved to be the last time that he looked in trouble.

Edwards tired and was replaced by Jermaine Lawson, allowing Bell to impose himself on the West Indies. Lawson is lively but not as quick as Edwards, and Bell decided to take on his short ball rather than watch it whistle past his nose.

Batting with Vaughan must have been a huge help and the England captain talked to his most recent recruit throughout. Vaughan also looked in excellent touch, even though he too had to duck and sway against the pacemen. But on each occasion they overpitched he sent the ball crashing to the boundary. His fifty came up off the 82nd ball he faced when he glanced a seventh boundary to fine-leg.

The tourists eventually realised they were wasting their time banging the ball in halfway down and decided to pitch it up, but this initially failed to bring any success. It only allowed Bell to show he is just as assured on the front foot as he is off the back.

It was a sumptuous straight drive for four which brought him his first Test fifty. Corey Collymore was the pick of the West Indian bowlers - in the morning session he bowled 10 overs for just 10 runs - but he, too, became frustrated by the youngster and overpitched as he searched desperately for a wicket.

With three figures looming, Lawson then dismissed Bell with a delivery that the batsman could do little about. It bounced and left the right-hander off a good length and clipped the outside edge of his bat. Vaughan followed soon after when he drove loosely at Dwayne Bravo and edged a catch to Lara at first slip.

But these setbacks failed to perturb Flintoff, who went after a tiring attack with gusto. His eighth score of fifty or more in eight Test matches came up off 51 balls and the West Indies will be glad that this is the last time they come up against him for quite some time.

THE OVAL SCOREBOARD

England won toss

ENGLAND - First innings

M E Trescothick c Sarwan b Edwards 30

121 min, 78 balls, 6 fours

A J Strauss c Edwards b Lawson 14

75 min, 44 balls, 2 fours

R W T Key c Baugh b Bravo 10

49 min, 41 balls, 1 four

*M P Vaughan c Lara b Bravo 66

185 min, 118 balls, 9 fours

I R Bell c Baugh b Lawson 70

154 min, 130 balls, 10 fours

A Flintoff not out 72

110 min, 92 balls, 13 fours

ÝG O Jones not out 22

83 min, 52 balls, 3 fours

Extras (b1 lb10 w3 nb15) 29

Total (5 wkts, 391 min, 90 overs) 313

Fall: 1-51 (Strauss), 2-64 (Trescothick), 3-64 (Key), 4-210 (Bell), 5-236 (Vaughan).

To bat: A F Giles, M J Hoggard, S J Harmison, J M Anderson.

Bowling: Edwards 15-3-50-1 (nb5) (4-1-13-0 7-2-17-1 4-0-20-0); Collymore 18-7-36-0 (nb4) (3-1-3-0 7-5-7-0 5-0-22-0 3-1-4-0); Lawson 16-2-84-2 (nb4 w1) (7-2-25-1 3-0-13-0 6-0-46-1); Bravo 17-4-48-2 (nb2) (7-3-16-1 10-1-32-1); Smith 12-3-44-0 (w1) (6-1-22-0 1-1-0-0 4-1-14-0 1-0-8-0); Gayle 5-0-18-0 (4-0-17-0 1-0-1-0); Sarwan 7-0-22-0 (1-0-3-0 6-0-19-0).

Progress: First day: Rain delayed start until 10.53am. 50: 67 min, 14 overs. Lunch: 53-1 (Trescothick 30, Key 1) 21 overs. 100: 184 min, 39 overs. Tea: 146-3 (Vaughan 44, Bell 31) 50 overs. 150: 224 min, 51.1 overs.

200: 269 min, 60.5 overs. 250: 319 min, 70.3 overs. 300: 377 min, 85.2 overs.

Vaughan 50: 121 min, 82 balls, 7 fours.

Bell 50: 131 min, 110 balls, 7 fours.

Flintoff 50: 66 min, 51 balls, 10 fours

West Indies: C H Gayle, S C Joseph, R R Sarwan, *B C Lara, S Chanderpaul, D J J Bravo, D R Smith, ÝC S Baugh, J J C Lawson, C D Collymore, F H Edwards.

Umpires: D B Hair (Aus) and R E Koertzen (SA).

TV replay umpire: J W Lloyds.

Match referee: R S Madugalle.

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