Ian Bell may have scored centuries in three consecutive Ashes Tests but he was caught and didn’t walk in each of those matches as well. No longer the fresh-faced Sherminator of 2005, Bell has morphed into the Regurgitator whose innings blossom in their second life.
Given out to a nick behind in the Sydney Test in the last Ashes series, Bell had the decision overturned on review despite a faint noise and tepid Hot Spot suggesting a feather-light caress of ball by bat.
There was another feather at Trent Bridge that ended Bell’s splendid century, though he required the umpire’s finger to send him on his way.
And he smeared a catch to gully yesterday that everyone at Lord’s, bar the on-field umpires and third umpire, Tony Hill, knew was taken by Steve Smith. Bell (below) was well within his rights to wait for Hill to adjudicate on the catch.
And he would have known that his chances of survival skyrocketed the moment the incident was sent to the third umpire for video examination.
Former Australia coach John Buchanan made it a team rule some years ago that no batsman should walk on a low catch, even an obvious one, because the likelihood of the video confirming the capture was virtually non-existent. Some players were uncomfortable with the policy but none doubted its rationale. Bell has adopted the Australian way, just as he took to sledging when he first played in Australia a decade ago. Bell was a protégé of Australia’s current national selector, John Inverarity, who was coaching Warwickshire at the time. Inverarity recognised Bell’s unquestioned talent but believed the youngster in his charge would benefit from a tough season in Australian club cricket.
Bell duly turned up at Inverarity’s club, University of Western Australia, where his first act was to volunteer as a substitute in a lower-grade match.
The ginger-headed newcomer trotted on to the field, asked where he needed to go and, after placing himself within a few yards of the bat at gully, promptly took a one-handed blinder from the first ball he experienced on Australian soil.
Bell also bowled handy swingers and, frustrated one hot and wearisome day after a couple of nicks had not been rewarded, he eventually got his man and pointed him back to the pavilion with a long and colourful send-off.
The University players were in hysterics at Bell’s uncharacteristic burst of fury, which earned him an umpire’s report and required the calling in of a favour or two to prevent a suspension. “I was just doing what you blokes have been doing all season,” the miffed Bell explained to his bemused and tear-stained team-mates.
What Bell had not realised was that sledging was regulated by its own undefined but intrinsic rules of engagement and that going from silence to all-out assault was more comical than intimidating.
Bell didn’t take long to comprehend sledging’s nuances and didn’t bother wasting his breath thereafter.Neither do many Australians waste their time and wickets by walking, though Adam Gilchrist made it a cause célèbre at the 2003 World Cup. Don Bradman infamously, stood his ground after edging a shoulder-high slips catch in his return to Test cricket in 1946-47, prompting Wally Hammond to mutter about the spirit of cricket.
And the former Australia opener Justin Langer often had to be dislodged from his crease by crane, an action in stark contrast to his Bell-like reaction when Michael Vaughan failed to depart after striking a low catch to him at Adelaide in 2002-03.
Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin nicked and stayed at Trent Bridge; their actions dissimilar to those of Stuart Broad and Bell by degree rather than concept.
Spirit of cricket or not, walking has now become a matter of the utmost reliability – the replays don’t show and the players don’t go.
John Townsend is Cricket Writer for The West Australian