Ian Bell finally banishes Ajmal's desert spells

Batsman puts his winter spin difficulties against Pakistan behind him to suggest he is ready for a glorious summer

Lord's

A flick of the wrists sent the ball scurrying towards the boundary, and, with West Indies beaten, Ian Bell leaped into the air and pumped his fist. Bell is not known for giving overt displays of emotion, so this celebration said much about the difficulties England's most elegant batsman has endured in 2012.

Even though he scored only one half-century in nine innings during the winter, Bell's place was never under threat. This is a man who averaged 118 in Tests during 2011 and he has always retained the support of Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower. Yet when any batsman is struggling to score runs, his anxiety will grow.

Publicly, Bell remained breezy during his run of poor totals in the United Arab Emirates and Sri Lanka. When he spoke about his sole fifty, the Warwickshire batsman joked he had forgotten what it was like to change his gloves during an innings. Bell always knew he had the talent and confidence to regain his best form for England. That he should do so in the first Test of the summer will lift his team-mates' hearts as much as his own.

"He has shown for a long time what a quality player he is," said Strauss. "He doesn't have to prove how good he is, but it was great to see him show his class, as he did from ball one in the first innings."

Bell has an average of 47 but does not believe he arrived as a Test player until 2009, when he made important contributions in the decisive Ashes Test and during the winter in South Africa. After that, Bell was prolific and international cricket must have seemed a wonderful, easy game.

Then, in January and February, the mystery spin of Pakistan's Saeed Ajmal tied Bell in knots, England lost 3-0 to Pakistan and suddenly his self-assurance at the crease was damaged. He lost his spot in England's limited-overs squads and after a moderate tour of Sri Lanka, Bell knew he had to start the summer strongly.

His 61 in the first innings steered England to 398, but his contribution in the second would have brightened his mood far more. Recalling the jibes early in his England career that he scored runs only when his team were dominant, Bell yearns constantly to play a decisive hand.

When he walked out to bat yesterday, the circumstances were exacting. With four wickets down, England were still 134 runs short of their victory target. Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen were back in the pavilion, Kemar Roach was bowling with menace and Sir Viv Richards was roaring his support from the Lord's Media Centre. Had Bell been out quickly, West Indies might have been able to win their first Test in England since 2000.

The pitch was excellent. West Indies' first- and second-change bowlers, Shannon Gabriel and the captain, Darren Sammy, do not bring the peril of Fidel Edwards and Roach. Even so, Bell's task was not easy, and the confidence with which he tackled it suggests his mind is now free of the spells Ajmal cast in the desert.

Bell's timing was slightly awry in the first innings but yesterday, it was clear the rhythm was back. A full toss from Gabriel was punched easily down the ground for four.

Bell then played a back-cut off Marlon Samuels – as an off-spinner, let's say he's not quite in the class of Ajmal – for the boundary that brought up the fifty stand with Alastair Cook. He was lucky when, on 25, he nearly chopped Sammy on to his stumps, but that was Bell's only false stroke.

Another late cut off Samuels took Bell to his 31st Test fifty and, after Cook hit Sammy into the hands of gully with only two required, Bell sealed the deal with a perfectly timed on-drive. That made it 63 not out and England were 1-0 up in the series.

Then came the jump for joy. Ian Bell is smiling again. Excellent news for England, and a resonant warning to South Africa, who will challenge Strauss's team for the top spot in the Test rankings later this summer. With a top score of 199 against the Proteas, how Bell must be looking forward to that.

Stats magic

3: Stuart Broad is now ranked the joint-third best Test bowler, with James Anderson.

66.00: Ian Bell's Test average at Lord's after 18 innings. He has scored three centuries and five fifties there. His career average is 47.18.

128: Catches taken by Denesh Ramdin after six more in this Test.

132: This was the fourth century stand between Cook and Bell.

News
Brand said he
people
Sport
Adam Lallana, Juan Cala, Andy Carroll and Cameron Jerome
sportThe latest news and scores
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
tvGrace Dent on TV
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Sport
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain drives in the rain during the qualifying session of the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix in Shanghai
sport
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Life & Style
The North Korean TV advert for Taedonggang beer, that became a YouTube hit
food + drinkAnd what did it take to set up a taste test back in Wiltshire?
Arts & Entertainment
filmLife for Leslie Mann's can be challenging sometimes
Voices
For music lovers: John Cusack with his vinyl collection in 'High Fidelity'
voices...but don't forget rest of the year
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit