Ian Bell's Tour Diary: We're out to win war of attrition
I'm relishing chance to bat at No 3 again for England but patience is key if we're to get the better of Murali and Co
Sunday 25 November 2007
Test cricket might have moved on considerably in the past decade but the subcontinent is the place to wind back the clock. When England begin their Test series against Sri Lanka next Saturday, we must remember to play the game as if from a different age.
Put simply, it would be folly to try to transfer the type of cricket we play at home, or in most other places, to here. We have to adjust and do so immediately. Since Australia led the dramatic change in approach, it has become more or less the norm to score between 350 and 420 runs a day.
That works in Australia, in England and in other places. But not here. These are slow pitches, slow outfields, hot and humid conditions – tailor made for attritional cricket. To win here we have to be prepared to take our time, to make patience our watchword more than ever. If that means settling for between 200 and 280 runs a day then that is what we must do.
As batsmen we have to be prepared to keep the opposition in the field for over after over, to look to keep the board ticking over but not to go hunting for big shots too early. That applies particularly in our approach to Muttiah Muralitharan, who stands on the threshold of becoming the leading Test wicket-taker of all time.
The longer you play against Murali the more chance you have of staying in, so the first 20 or so balls are vital. And batsmen know it is important to stick to their game plan. We also know that he will take wickets in this series. His record – not least at home – speaks for itself, so there will definitely be five-wicket hauls for him.
That is not a defeatist talking, it is a realist. But the objective is to ensure that Murali does not take 5 for 20 but 5 for 150 (or preferably 0-150) and that we have batted a long time against him and his colleagues.
It will be difficult for sure and we will have to spot the doosra early and try to play it from hand but we cannot simply let him dominate. You have to look to rotate the strike. It sounds obvious but it can be easily overlooked in the heat of the battle.
The bowlers too have to be prepared to play a waiting game. There is unlikely to be any blasting out. A match, all the matches, could turn on one big session on the fourth or fifth days.
And catching will be crucial. One of the reasons that Australia have been so dominant is that they snaffle the half chances regularly. Sounds obvious again but it can be easier said than done.
England's coach, Peter Moores, has been relentless in working on our fielding so far. We have practised catches, of course, but we have worked on our technique, probably as never before, because that can be crucial over a long hot day in the field.
Sri Lanka have returned home from Australia with their tails between their legs, having been on the wrong end of a 2-0 drubbing in which nothing went right. Some of us recognise that feeling. They are a greatly different animal at home but they may be chastened and they will be desperate to do well. It will put them under a little more pressure.
The longer we stay in the series, the greater the stresses will be on the home side. We can take strength from our one-day success last month.
Nothing has been decided yet but I may well return to three in the batting order. It is different than six because you can be in earlier, have more time to make a big hundred. It is more pivotal. I know I had a decent record at six and I would bat anywhere for England but I am relishing the prospect.
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