On the eve of Ian Bell’s 100th Test match, we look back at some of his best moments in an England shirt.
Impressive start (70 v West Indies on debut at the Oval, August 2004)
Drafted into the squad to replace the injured Graham Thorpe, a 22-year-old Bell was given a sharp introduction to Test cricket by a rather rapid Fidel Edwards at the Oval. However, he overcame the barrage of short stuff early doors and quickly blossomed, showing those who had not seen him performing for Warwickshire just what a prodigious talent he was. Arriving at the crease at 64-3 after England had lost two wickets without adding a run, Bell went on to make 70 from 130 deliveries, putting on a stand of 146 with Andrew Flintoff that set the hosts up to make a big score. A hundred on debut looked a real possibility until he edged Jermaine Lawson Their total of 470 led to a 10-wicket win, despite an 87-ball century for Chris Gayle in the tourists’ second innings, meaning Bell enjoyed a successful start to his career
First of many (162* v Bangladesh, Chester-le-Street, June 2005)
Having not appeared in the winter series against South Africa, Bell was back in the England side – this time batting at number four – for two ‘Tests’ against Bangladesh (both finished inside three days). After a half-century in the innings victory at Lord’s, the right-hander registered his maiden ton in the longest form of the international game in the second match at Durham. His unbeaten 162 included 25 fours and a solitary six, his fluent strokeplay seeing his runs come from just 168 deliveries. Together with fellow centurion Marcus Trescothick he put on 155, allowing then captain Michael Vaughan to declare with a huge lead. England duly dismissed Bangladesh early on the third morning, making it back-to-back landslide triumphs – hardly the best preparation for an Ashes battle.
Pakistan put to the sword (summer of 2006)
After a tough series at home against Australia, one where he managed a pair of half-centuries at Old Trafford and little else, including a pair at the Oval as England secured the draw they needed to regain the miniature urn, Bell rewarded the selectors’ faith with a hundred on tour in Pakistan. They were opponents who would certainly prove to his liking, particularly in the summer of 2006. Batting at six in the order, Bell became the first man since Graham Gooch 16 years earlier to score tons in three successive Tests. The run started out with an unbeaten 100 in the first innings at Lord’s, was then left 106 not out at Old Trafford before completing the hat-trick with 119 at Headingley. He couldn’t make it four from four at the Oval, though it was probably a good job as his feat would only have end up being overshadowed by the match being awarded to England when Pakistan refused to take the field after a tea interval having been accused of ball-tampering.
Saving the day (78 v South Africa, Cape Town, January 2010)
Accused in the early stages of his career of not getting tough runs, Bell played one of his most important knocks against South Africa at Newlands. Despite making 199 against the same opponents the previous year, his 78 in the second innings of the third Test in Cape Town was much more crucial. Set an unlikely 466 to victory and with a 1-0 lead in the series to defend, Bell battled hard to keep England afloat after they had slipped to 160-5. With Paul ‘Brigadier Block’ Collingwood for company, he set about repelling a South African attack spearheaded by Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. His innings ate up 213 balls, and although he wasn’t quite there at the end, his efforts left Graeme Swann and Graham Onions with 17 deliveries left to deal with. They duly did, England escaped to a draw. Bell finished the four-match series with an average a little under 45 and with a reputation greatly enhanced.
Ashes return (Edgbaston, July 2011)
Having been dropped after the calamity in the Caribbean, England being bowled out for just 51 in the first Test of a five-match series they would go on to lose 1-0, Bell had to bide his time for a way back into the line-up. In an Ashes summer no less the call came, with an Achilles injury to Kevin Pietersen leaving a sizeable void in the middle order. On his home ground, Bell made the most of an early let-off with a close lbw decision to make 53 batting at no 4. He, like all of England’s batsmen failed at Headingley, but another half-century in the series finale at the Oval, when promoted to three, helped England amass a first-innings total that just about justified skipper Andrew Strauss’ decision to bat first. Australia duly collapsed from 73-0 to 160, Jonathan Trott put down a marker as to his abilities with a hundred on debut and England won the Test and the series, 2-1.
Doubling delight at last (235 v India, the Oval, August 2011)
Having played his part in a successful defence of the Ashes during the previous winter, Bell helped England complete a 4-0 series sweep of India – who had arrived as the top-ranked Test team in the world – by managing a best score of 235 in the final match at the Oval. Together with Kevin Pietersen he put the visiting attack to the sword, the duo – offering a lovely contrast between silky timing and sheer force – shared a partnership worth 250 for the third wicket in the home team’s first innings. Eventually both fell to the part-time spin of Suresh Raina, though by that stage Bell had cracked two sixes and 23 fours to reach his one and only Test double ton. India were unable to surpass a total of 591-6 declared in two attempts, meaning Strauss’ side celebrated an innings victory and a move to the summit of the ICC standings. Bell was named man of the match for his innings, which surpassed his previous high of 199.
Australia kept at bay (summer of 2013)
Once mocked by England’s great rivals, including being nicknamed ‘The Sherminator’ by Shane Warne, Bell proved Australia’s nemesis in the summer of 2013. In the first three Tests of the Ashes series England were in trouble, and on each occasion the elegant batsman dug them out of trouble to set up match-winning situations. At Trent Bridge in the opener Bell made 109 in the second innings on a slow track, using the late cut with great success. Next up at Lord’s he arrived at the crease at 28-3 and duly stroked 109 to spare England from embarrassment. Not content there, he struck 113 at Durham in the fourth Test to put his side far enough clear. An Australian collapse in their run chase meant Alastair Cook’s side wrapped up victory late on day four, meaning they not only retained the Ashes but won the series outright.