Another test match, another hundred for Ian Bell. Perfectly delightful it was too, like its three predecessors this summer and if anything on a higher artistic plane. He becomes better and better, the must-watch batsman of this generation.
The way he is going only his low scores will be headline-worthy: "Bell fails to make hundred – probe under way." He scored two centuries against Sri Lanka in the first Test series of the season and now has another two against India in the second, and his average is above 100. His overall average is galloping now towards 50, the modern benchmark of greatness.
There was also, almost incidentally, which is ridiculous in itself, a hundred for Kevin Pietersen. It was merely his second of 2011, though his sixth score above 50 in 10 innings. That it was not quite so pleasing on the eye, at least until he passed his hundred, is merely a measure of how resplendent Bell is these days.
Together they made it a routine day of subjugation for India on the second day of the fourth Test. Was this team really the highest ranked in the world until a week ago? In the evening, England were so dominant that the embarrassment factor was higher than the sunscreen factor needed by most spectators.
When Pietersen finally went for 175, the third-wicket pair had shared a partnership of 350, 170 of them in the afternoon session, 151 in the evening. England finished on 457 for 3, for some reason having sent in a nightwatchman in Jimmy Anderson. Bell was 181 not out.
Their long occupation followed the unexpected loss of both openers in the morning and took England to another formidable position. They cannot lose this match and may very well win to take the series 4-0. There are no demons in the pitch but it will reward accuracy and pace, of which England possess sufficient and India do not. Graeme Swann, England's spinner, may be expected to play a significant part for the first time since the season's opening Test in May.
Bell does not do ugly in his batting. It varies around impeccable, delectable and divine (didn't Perry Como almost have a song about it?) and yesterday embraced the whole trio. These qualities, alluring though they are, do not necessarily pay the bills and Bell has added streaks of steel and determination which were palpably absent early in his international career.
Andy Flower, England's coach, has pointed out occasionally that Bell owes England because of the opportunities he was given and almost squandered at the start of his career. Even Flower might concede that the debt is beginning to be repaid.
India might have hoped for better, much better, after managing to remove Alastair Cook with the fifth ball of the day followed by Andrew Strauss before the first hour was out. Cook nicked to slip, Strauss, having been becalmed, essayed a drive which found the edge. But dismissing Cook, highly prized though he is, and Strauss, the captain always being important, can still be like bending down to grab a fiver while having your pockets picked.
Actually, the tourists might have wondered what they had done to themselves. Nothing went right. On the stroke of lunch they thought for a moment they had ensnared Pietersen in the leg-slip trap when he clipped Ishant Sharma towards a prowling Suresh Raina.
Something similar happened at Lord's and as happened then, Pietersen was reprieved because the ball just bounced – or seemed to do so – before it reached the fielder. There were moments thereafter when India might have had a wicket, but not many and never that of Bell. Pietersen almost offered a chance to long off from a leading edge. It would have been a chance had RP Singh been faster, fitter and more alert but that is to be fanciful.
He was dropped shortly after tea, the ball after reaching his 19th Test hundred, Gautam Gambhir careering backwards at mid-on and failing to hold on to a catch above his head. It was not straightforward and it might just have touched seven on the scale of difficulty on which 10 is the most difficult.
It should certainly have been taken but alas it was indicative of a broader fielding malaise. Too many balls were missed along the ground which should have been stopped. Why, Sachin Tendulkar himself was at it when, attempting to stop a ball on the boundary with two hands, he ended up shovelling it over the rope like a scrum-half trying to clear up scrappy ball at the base of a ruck.
Bell just got on with the business of bringing pleasure to the masses. He was sumptuous throughout his knock, his late cuts especially charming and his 16th Test hundred arrived with his 12th four, pushed through the covers off the back foot.
The second new ball, which they mysteriously delayed taking (but then so much of their cricket has been a mystery which would have defied the wisdom of ancient seers) offered the tourists their last hope of redemption on this day. There was one over in the evening when it might have been partially achieved.
Bell played a glorious cover drive to an away swinger from Sreesanth which rattled through the covers. It was probably the shot of his innings which is saying something. He tried to repeat it to the next two balls, both of good length which left him a shade and beat the outside edge. Sreesanth felt aggrieved, and why not. One lousy edge was all he asked, though there was no certainty, indeed there was a huge degree of uncertainty, that Dhoni would hold on to anything. It was another untidy day for India's captain, another day when he had nowhere to turn and could only hope his team would therefore not turn on themselves.
The evening session brought no respite, quite the reverse. The batsmen each sailed past 150, the partnership became 300, the total 450. Pietersen finally mistimed a drive which Amit Mishra held on to. The damage had long since been done.
England's highest partnerships
Partners Runs Wkt Opposition Ground Date
PBH May, MC Cowdrey 411 4th West Indies Birmingham 30 May 1957
L Hutton, M Leyland 382 2nd Australia The Oval 20 Aug 1938
WJ Edrich, DCS Compton 370 3rd South Africa Lord's 21 Jun 1947
JH Edrich, KF Barrington 369 2nd New Zealand Leeds 8 Jul 1965
L Hutton, C Washbrook 359 1st South Africa Johannesburg 27 Dec 1948
GA Gooch, DI Gower 351 2nd Australia The Oval 29 Aug 1985
IR Bell, KP Pietersen 350 3rd India The Oval 19 Aug 2011
IJL Trott, SCJ Broad 332 8th Pakistan Lord's 26 Aug 2010
RT Robinson, DI Gower 331 2nd Australia Birmingham 15 Aug 1985
AN Cook, IJL Trott 329 2nd Australia Brisbane 25 Nov 2010
Fourth Test (Second day of five): England have scored 457 for 3 wickets against India
England won toss
ENGLAND First Innings Overnight 75-0
*A J Strauss c Dhoni b Sreesanth 40
106 balls 0 sixes 5 fours
A N Cook c Sehwag b Sharma 34
87 balls 0 sixes 4 fours
I R Bell not out 181
304 balls 2 sixes 17 fours
K P Pietersen c & b Raina 175
232 balls 0 sixes 27 fours
J M Anderson not out 3
18 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
Extras (b2 lb7 w6 nb9) 24
Total (for 3, 123 overs) 457
Fall: 1-75, 2-97, 3-447.
To bat: E J G Morgan, R S Bopara, †M J Prior, T T Bresnan, S C J Broad, G P Swann.
Bowling: R P Singh 30-7-96-0 (1nb, 1w) (7-2-19-0, 6-2-15-0, 5-2-8-0 1nb, 5-0-26-0, 5-1-23-0 1w, 2-0-5-0), I Sharma 27-7-81-1 (1nb) (4-1-7-0, 4-1-10-0, 6-3-7-1, 2-2-0-0, 4-0-24-0, 3-0-17-0 1nb, 4-0-16-0), S Sreesanth 23-2-95-1 (4nb) (6-0-26-0, 6-1-15-1 1nb, 4-0-28-0 1nb, 7-1-26-0 2nb, S K Raina 12-1-36-1 (2-0-5-0, 5-0-19-0, 5-1-12-1), A Mishra 29-2-129-0 (3nb, 1w) (20-2-67-0 2nb, 9-0-62-0 1nb 1w), S R Tendulkar 2-0-11-0 (one spell)
India: G Gambhir, V Sehwag, R Dravid, S R Tendulkar, S Sreesanth, V V S Laxman, S K Raina, *†M S Dhoni, A Mishra, R P Singh, I Sharma.
Progress: Second day: 100 in 39.2 overs, Lunch: 126-2 in 51 overs (Bell 29, Pietersen 18), 150 in 56.4 overs, Bell: 50 off 111 balls (7 fours), Pietersen: 50 off 62 balls (9 fours), 200 in 64.2 overs, 250 in 76.5 overs, Bell: 100 off 181 balls (12 fours), Tea: 296-2 in 89 overs (Bell 114, Pietersen 98), 300 in 89.1 overs, Pietersen: 100 off 148 balls (15 fours), 350 in 100.4 overs, Pietersen: 150 off 208 balls (23 fours), Bell: 150 off 257 balls (17 fours), 400 in 109.2 overs, 450 in 117.4 overs, Close: 457-3 in 123 overs (Bell 181, Anderson 3).
Umpires: S J A Taufel (Aus) and R J Tucker (Aus).
TV umpire: S J Davis (Aus).
Match referee: R S Madugalle (SL).Reuse content