Ian Bell: McGrath keeps hitting the cracks. I smile at him. It's the only thing to do
Diary of an Ashes tourist
Sunday 26 November 2006
Finished off in Adelaide. The warm-up match against South Australia was a perfect work-out. We are on course for the series now and feeling good.
Flew out of Adelaide and into Brisbane. Out for dinner in the evening with my fiancée, Lucy, who has arrived from home. For the first time there are loads of England supporters around. They are excited and happy. They all wish us well. There is a real sense of expectation building up all around now.
Aagh! In the nets, a ball from Jimmy Anderson keeps low after a couple from Freddie and Harmy had grown on me. I expect the same from this one, drop my hands on it and it thuds into my wrist. In a split second the whole series flashes before me. That's it. No, please. Jimmy is shocked at hitting me, and at the thought that he has put me out of the match. Ice is applied immediately. A bandage comes later. I might be lucky. The blow is just above the bony part of the left wrist. It is sore, but I go to sleep thinking that I am not going to miss out on this. Not for anything, not for the world.
A net in the morning shows that it's going to be OK. I can play. I am cautious but then I realise I have got to bat properly. No point in shilly-shallying around at this stage. The evening team talk is focused - intense but relaxed at the same time. We know how important it is to start well.
Lose the toss, field. Not ideal. Nor is what follows. The Australians dominate from the start. I am not saying that everything that could go wrong does go wrong, but nothing goes right. We are nervous, but so are Australia. They hit a couple of balls in the air through the gully and point areas, but nothing to hand. Then they proceed to bat very well indeed.
Ricky Ponting's innings is marvellous, right up there with the very best in its approach and its execution. We know how important he is to them, but he rises above it all.
In a way we don't know what has hit us. We knew that it would be tough, that the Australians would come at us hard; that is what Australians do. We keep going, there is a lot of cricket to play. But it isn't the first day we had planned for in practice or in our minds. Far from it.
They bat on and on, and on. We bowl better but they still assemble irritating little stands to advance their total. We can't finish them off. At last comes our turn to bat. It starts in composed enough fashion. Then Glenn McGrath, the old warhorse, starts to find his precise line.
I am in for the sixth over. I feel OK, I feel as though things have changed. I know my body language is better. Maybe this isn't a conscious effort, maybe it is just that I feel now that I belong in this company.
It goes well, I play and miss at a couple early, otherwise it comes from the middle. But 53 for 3 at the close is not good. Far from it.
Kevin Pietersen and I know that we have to bat a long time, we know we cannot compromise our styles too much either. He looks to dominate, I look to accumulate. The pitch has declined markedly, though. I don't think I have seen anything like it. Day one it looked perfect, now the cracks are deep and wide. And McGrath keeps hitting them. One such ball veers sharply away from me. I smile at him. It's the only thing to do.
McGrath and Stuart Clark do not have any great pace to speak of but they both put the ball where you least like it. They are concentrating on an off-stump channel to me. I leave lots alone, more than I would in England. I reach 50, then Clark bowls one which just nips slightly, I push at it more than I should, it goes to slip. A misjudged shot. I can't explain it. I don't think it's the match situation, and I don't think I lost concentration.
Australia decide to bat again. We are surprised. They come out and launch an immediate assault against the new ball. Towards the end the lead goes above 600. It's hard to keep perky now in the field.
Australia have been fantastic. But if we lose this, how we get out of it is vital to the future. If we go down, we must go down fighting. Team still together. But it has not been good. Far from it.
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