Ian Bell impresses for England
Ian Bell once again repaid the faith of England's selectors with a deeply impressive hundred against Australia A at the Bellerive Oval today.
Bell (121 not out) and Paul Collingwood (74no) reprised their rescue act from last week's drawn match in Adelaide, this time upping the ante with an unbroken stand of 198 in 45 overs.
The upshot was a close-of-play 335 for five and a first-innings lead of 105 with plenty of power to add at the halfway mark of this four-day match.
England badly needed some vintage Bell when they lost three wickets for 13 runs to lurch to 137 for five, still well in arrears early on a showery afternoon in Hobart.
The selectors will not have true vindication, of course, until Bell carries his warm-up form into the Ashes - beginning in Brisbane next week.
But the belief they have shown in his abilities, returning the 28-year-old immediately to their first-choice team after his injury last summer, appears well-placed at present. He certainly appreciates it, and is anxious to prove coach Andy Flower and captain Andrew Strauss right.
"There's no doubt when you lose your place, through injury or whatever, you're going to have to fight hard to get it back," he said.
"Probably coming here, I thought I would be the one on the outside and not playing."
Instead, the spare batsman has been Eoin Morgan.
"Eoin is a fantastic player and he has a massive future," Bell added.
"It's difficult [for Eoin] but also great for English cricket to have a quality player like him who is on the sidelines at the minute."
Bell never received explicit information that he was inked in to the Test team for England's bid to retain the Ashes.
But he said: "I guess just being picked in the three games speaks more than any words.
"It's nice to have that backing and confidence, and I hope the form can continue now for the Ashes."
The consensus is that Bell, for so long earmarked as a star of the future thanks to his Rolls-Royce technique, is about to come of age with a welter of runs.
"There's no doubt I feel a better player than I was the last time I was on an Ashes tour," he confirmed.
"I feel a better player, and my game is starting to really take shape.
"But it counts for nothing yet. It's great practice, and great to go out and get hundreds, but the big stuff starts in Brisbane."
Bell, whose 113-ball hundred contained 13 fours and a six and much of his trademark timing to all parts, took a particular liking to the leg-spin of Steve Smith.
The all-rounder is one of three A team players also in Australia's 17-man squad for Brisbane.
But Bell did not go after him just to try to undermine his confidence.
"That's the way I've been playing the spinners recently, trying to be quick on my feet and assert myself a little bit on the bowler," he explained.
"It wasn't because it was him, just the way I try to play spin now."
From number six, Bell dominated his and Collingwood's stand.
He is not about to proclaim he is in the form of his life just yet, though, despite an open invitation to do so.
"The Ashes series hasn't started. It would be nice to take this into the Ashes; then I can tell you," he added.
"I feel like I'm getting into the right place I need to be to be playing Test cricket, mentally and physically - and I think I'm maturing as a player.
"I think I've learned a lot from my mistakes.
"I've really enjoyed working with (England batting coach) Graham Gooch over the last 12, 16 months. He's added some nice bits of experience that have helped in my game.
"He talks about going on and getting big hundreds, and today it was in the back of my mind what Goochie talks about.
"In the past, I've been 'guilty' of getting 50s."
Kevin Pietersen might have been pleased with one of those today, but instead could make only five before unaccountably missing an unremarkable delivery from Steve O'Keefe to be bowled middle and off-stump.
He was the last man out for England, once again to a left-arm spinner - a noted weakness of his in recent times.
But Bell pointed out: "At the WACA the other day, he seemed to play (Michael) Beer fantastically well.
"When I saw it on the screen initially, I thought it looked a decent delivery."
O'Keefe still seemed a little mystified several hours later as to how he had got Pietersen out.
"I think he played for a bit more 'slide'. It still went straight, but he played for a bit more inswing," he said.
"Early on against a spinner, you might try to get someone whose feet aren't moving as well.
"I was lucky enough to get one past his defence. I'm sure if he had got in he would have taken a bit of a liking to the left-arm spin."
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