Ian Bell: Winning hit made that beer taste sweet
Running out Pujara was like hitting the back of the net for Aston Villa
Monday 10 December 2012
Where to start? To hit the winning runs for England in a Test match in Kolkata is beyond boyhood dreams. I said in my column last week that just playing Test cricket at Eden Gardens was the fulfilment of an ambition. Although, when I woke up yesterday morning I certainly wasn't expecting to be walking out with us three down.
After the disappointment of Ahmedabad and then watching our Mumbai win on TV, to play a part in back-to-back victories in India is a moment that deserves to be savoured. Someone told me that it's pretty much 60 Tests since South Africa managed the same feat.
That made the beers we cracked open in the dressing room afterwards taste even sweeter. Although, we've now discovered the downside of cricket starting so early over here. A 9am first ball and a mercifully quick finish, leaving aside those three wickets, meant the beers were opened before pubs would even be open back at home. So yesterday was all about pacing ourselves as we toasted what feels like a significant win for English cricket, especially after going behind in the series.
We allowed the celebrations to carry on through to last night, within reason. It's important to let ourselves savour victories as they come along and not get too wrapped up in the bigger picture all the time. After all, we're only the second England team ever to experience victory at Eden Gardens.
Alongside the celebrations come moments of reflection. To be honest, my match-clinching stint at the crease was exactly what my game needed. I've made no secret of the fact that I've been struggling for rhythm before this Test. Rhythm is such an elusive quality and is hard for a batsman to put into words, but let me try. There's a chemistry between your batting brain, the fluidity of your feet movement and your general feel at the crease, it goes beyond technique and only comes about when all three are in synch.
Hunting it down can lead you into a vicious circle. Time at the crease is usually the best remedy but out in the middle can be the worst place to be when things aren't quite clicking. I've been spending a lot of time with Graham Gooch, our batting coach, and with his experience of making runs here in India, there isn't a better man to take stock of my game. However, that's where the vicious cycle begins, as it's far harder to replicate the rhythm of the nets in the cauldron of a stadium like Eden Gardens.
That was the certainly the case in my first innings. It's always frustrating to be cooped up in the pavilion for over a day itching to get out there. Although, I can't complain too much as, once again, Cookie gave us a complete masterclass in batting on the subcontinent. It was only a freak run-out that deprived him of an incredible double century. We haven't had a proper chance to give him enough stick for his 'evasive action' just yet but don't worry we'll get our chance once the serious business of getting a result in Nagpur is out the way. Cookie called it a 'brain freeze' and I know exactly how he feels after my incident at Trent Bridge last summer so I may leave the ribbing to the rest of the lads.
Before I start thinking ahead to the fourth Test, I'd like to get away from my batting travails and talk about the other contribution I made to the match. Obviously, it would be ideal if all of the top six could be scoring centuries but I've been playing cricket long enough to know that's just wishful thinking. So, to be responsible for dismissing Pujara in their second innings felt as good as making a half-century – and given that he's scored more than 400 runs this series, perhaps even more. Trust me, no one wants to see me bowl in Test cricket; there is a reason I've only bowled 108 balls in 82 Test matches – although I have taken a Test wicket (answers on a postcard). That means I had to rely on my fielding to make up for my lack of runs in the first innings.
It's always a great buzz to be responsible for a run out. As a batsman you only really get to celebrate like one of the bowlers when you reach three figures, so a direct hit feels like hitting the back of the net for Aston Villa. Swanny had just produced a piece of magic to get rid of Sehwag. The way Sehwag bats you always feel like you've got a chance but I've seen up close in Chennai on our last tour how he can take the game away from you.
Pujara offers a different challenge. He's been India's danger man all series; not only has he got the patience to bat all day, he's also got the attacking strokes to really trouble the scorers. As a fellow batsman I could only watch with frustration – and appreciation – when he began his innings with two text-book strokes for four; shots like that are the real proof of a man in form and hungry for runs. Momen-tum is key in any sport and at that point it had shifted in India's favour.
You're always hoping you can get rid of a batsman like that as soon as possible. It was an instinctive bit of fielding but I can still see the pick and release in slow motion. As soon as the ball was half-way out of my hand I knew it was on target, it then just became a race between Pujara and the conker. As you could probably tell from my celebration, I knew straight away he was short. Cue those celebrations and, for the rest of the afternoon, we managed to celebrate again and again and again until Ashwin decided to dig in.
Our fielding coach, Richard Halsall, has spent all of this tour drilling into us the importance of our ground fielding. Wickets can be so hard to come by in India, as we learned in the first Test, so for the team to pull off two key run-outs makes all that hard slog through countless fielding drills feel worthwhile.
Where to end? It wasn't just the run-outs or Cookie's batting. Our bowlers from Jimmy to Finn to Monty and Swann always looked like taking 20 wickets and that is what we need to do to win in Nagpur. We head to this week's fourth Test in confident mood. After so many difficult tours to the subcontinent, it's satisfying to finally have the opposition worrying about selection issues. We've got them on the back foot – and that's exactly where we plan on keeping them.
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