Ian Bell: Diary of an Ashes tourist

Dream day for dedicated spinner, and then it all goes horribly wrong
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The Independent Online

SUNDAY

Practice games seem to get a lot of flak for one reason or another. They are what you make of them. This is the second day of the 12-a-side game against Western Australia. I do 12th man duties after a day off the previous day.

Alastair Cook, with a hundred, and Andrew Strauss both get runs. Runs in the bank and time in the middle can only help. The middle is where you play the game, not the nets. They complement each other. Even a game like this has its worth.

MONDAY

A day off from cricket but I have some sponsorship obligations to fulfil for Vodafone. These take the form of a couple of interviews, one on the phone, one face to face. The same questions tend to crop up, but players are quite happy to do these things.

With a squad of 16 your name doesn't come too often, and more importantly the sponsors are part of the game. Players know that without them the game wouldn't be the same. It's part and parcel of being a pro cricketer and not one to be taken lightly.

TUESDAY

Intensive nets at the Waca. I face Harmison, Hoggard and Flintoff with the new ball. It's a good workout. We have a chat about what happened at Adelaide. It isn't an inquest so much as a report. We don't dwell deeply on the last day which cost so much. We know that for four days we did what we were supposed to do.

There is some discussion about why we changed the way we played from the first innings. In essence there wasn't any need to do it. But we have to draw a line under it. Worry about that now and it will be silly.

WEDNESDAY

A squad is named at the team meeting. But one player definitely in the team is Monty Panesar. It's always slightly uncomfortable, and it's a position I've been in myself. Of course, people are happy for Monty, but there is also Ashley Giles to consider, since he has been left out.

I know Giles very well because we both play for Warwickshire. He's a fine professional and I don't go along with the theory that he has nothing more to offer. Far from it. But I don't speak to him now. It's not the time.

THURSDAY

The match. The match that could decide the Ashes. We lose the toss, which isn't the perfect start. Australia bat and come out slugging. But then we turn it round. In an excellent bowling performance we bowl out Australia for 244. Panesar has five wickets on his Ashes debut, Harmison has another four.

These two bowl well together, as they did in the summer. Never forget that bowling partnerships are every bit as important as batting partnerships. Pressure can be applied at both ends. Australia can't break free of the shackles, as they demonstrate by getting out to balls from Monty that weren't obviously wicket-taking ones.

This a fantastic debut against Australia for Monty. We've known each other since we both played at Under-19 level. He's utterly dedicated and is just joyous about playing. He's a sharp bloke to have around too, good with banter, particularly when he's talking about his batting.

But this wonderful start is undermined towards the end. After Cook goes I follow next over. It's a good ball from Lee, on middle stump, bouncing and leaving me. The opinion from the commentary box later is that if I hadn't been in such good form I wouldn't have touched it.

This is not much consolation. I should have had two hundreds in this series. We finish the day recognising the importance of the first session tomorrow.

FRIDAY

It all goes horribly wrong in the morning. I'm not there to witness the fall of the wickets as I'm having a net. But I do get back to watch Panesar share what might be a crucial last-wicket stand with Harmison.

Now I must say immediately that I'm claiming none of the credit, but it was me who did the throwdowns at Monty before play.

We paid particular attention to the slog sweep and he played the shot perfectly twice against Shane Warne for fours. The impeccable on-drive to the boundary for four off Stuart Clark: either you've got it or you haven't.

I don't know whether I'm better at "tds" than the next man, but I do know the only reason I was doing them was because I was out the night before.

Australia come out attacking again after losing a wicket to the first ball. It's pretty quiet in the dressing room. We know how important tomorrow is to our cricketing lives.

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