Peter Roebuck: Bell's sound attitude finds route to recovery

Round-faced fellows usually end up hosting game shows

Summoning the application missing in their previous first innings, the English batsmen dutifully set about the task of putting runs on the board. Dismissed cheaply in Brisbane, they erected barricades around their stumps, emerging once in a while to collect a few runs and then retreating again to avoid unwanted casualties. Although it was not pretty to watch, the tourists batted gamely and took their side into a solid position. The rewards came in the final session as their fourth-wicket pair took toll of weary opponents.

Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood set the tone for the innings with a resolute third-wicket partnership. Bell had to fight hard to establish his innings. His first six runs took longer to muster than sheep in an outback paddock. No sooner had he arrived than the endlessly artful Shane Warne was thrown the leather, whereupon the veteran leggie produced a tantalising spell.

Bell could not make much of him. He tried stepping down the pitch and sweeping but Warne seemed to read his mind. Hereabouts the batsman looked about as likely to produce something memorable as the Bay City Rollers.

But the cheery Midlander survived to build a satisfying innings. Often it happens that a knock that begins with a struggle ends with a conquest. Likewise a flighty start often leads to a wanton dismissal. Once he had taken his bearings, Bell did not look much like getting out. He worked out a plan and executed it diligently against a persistent but undermanned attack.

Evidently, his visage is misleading. Round-faced fellows usually end up murdering their grandparents or hosting game shows.

Nor had Collingwood any more intention than his partner of letting the side down. An experienced professional, he plays to his strengths. He waited for chances to cut or work the ball away on the leg side, shots played with a short backlift and strong bottom hand. He countered Warne with particular skill, cutting and pushing the ball into gaps so that the spinner could not build pressure. He deserves the hundred that eluded him at the Gabba.

Afterwards, Kevin Pietersen punished a tiring attack. He is an exceptionally intelligent batsman and the game changes when he appears. Even his outrages are calculated. Moreover, he is Warne's master. Once again the spinner was reduced to defending from around the wicket.

England were helped by baffling tactics from the home captain. After bowling tightly in the morning, the Australians gave away too many cheap runs. Ricky Ponting set over-elaborate fields featuring an abundance of short mid-wickets and leg gulleys and precious few slips or covers. Nor did he give Stuart Clark, his best bowler, a crack at Pietersen till the danger man had passed 50. He must also sense that Warne and Glenn McGrath are in decline. Neither made much of another painfully slow antipodean pitch.

Overall, it was England's best day of the series. Perhaps the lion did not roar. Nor did it whimper.

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