Ian Bell: England thrive on hundreds habit
Recent one-day success built on recognition that statistically centuries bring victory
This may be the start of something grand. England have not only won their last six one-day internationals but in each of them one of their batsman has scored a hundred.
The first of those sequences is not unprecedented – three times before England have won eight in a row – but the second is out on its own. England have always been short of hundreds in limited-overs cricket and five countries have scored more.
But lately England seemed to have found the knack, perhaps aided by the use of a new ball at each end from the start of the innings with the premium that puts on old-fashioned batting virtues. This has been evident especially in the form of Ian Bell whose elevation to open the innings once more has brought him scores of 126 and 53.
"Scoring hundreds is not something we've done really well for a long time," he said yesterday as the team prepared for the third and final match against West Indies at Headingley tomorrow with the series already won. "But we know if one of our top four can get a hundred, then we're on for a good total.
"We've spoken about having five out-and-out bowlers and that means a good score will be very defendable with our attack."
England won the first match of the summer by 114 runs and the second by eight wickets, which followed four similarly thumping victories against Pakistan in the UAE in February. The crushing 5-0 defeat that they suffered in India last autumn is beginning to fade. England are a different proposition at home where they have now won six successive series.
The hundred count is crucial. If a player scores a hundred in one-day internationals, the likelihood is that his side wins. Of the 1,196 ODI hundreds, 876 have been for the winning side.
It is only the third time that a team has had individual centurions in six successive matches. Sri Lanka did so in 2006 – the first five matches against England – and Australia repeated it in the following year.
As for England, they have never before had individual hundreds in more than three successive matches. The changes in regulations appear to suit them both with ball and bat in their hand.
Bell said: "With two new balls, the ball is that little bit new when guys come back for their second spell, Tim Bresnan and Stuart Broad coming on first change, bowling heavy lengths at good pace.
"It's going to be hard for any batsmen – especially in English conditions – to hit those guys."
Equally, batsmen are getting more value for money for their shots throughout the innings. Instead of simply relying on keeping the board ticking over in the middle overs, boundary options are available.
"It felt like that going through the innings at Hampshire," said Bell, reflecting on his innings last Saturday. "The ball was still hard and was still flying off the bat. That does feel good. In both innings, there was a little seam movement for the first six overs and, if you can get through that, then the ball starts to skid on nicely.
"It stays hard for longer and we saw [Alastair] Cook yesterday still able to hit the boundaries in that middle period which is going to be crucial for us as a side trying to get better."
England's decision to rest three players for the last match – Broad, Bresnan and Graeme Swann - has not been greeted with universal approval, especially as Bresnan was playing on his home ground. It adds further credence to the argument that there are too many matches. But 15,000 of the 16,000 tickets have been sold for the match.
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