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Advantage England after Bell-Broad stand

Seriously high-quality Test cricket was on offer at Trent Bridge as hosts edge ahead

Advantage England after Bell-Broad stand - Cricket News
England's Ian Bell and Stuart Broad take a run during their partnership.
For sheer quality of cricket, you would be hard pressed to beat the third day of the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge on Friday (July 12).
 
Fans of hit-and-giggle Twenty20-style run fests should perhaps stop reading at this point. In the 90 overs bowled, only 246 runs were scored, and a wicket fell only once every 135 balls. The frenetic pace of the first two days was left well behind on a day when both teams strained at the leash. England ended the day well in control, with a lead of 261, but Australia wasn’t quite waving the white flag yet.
 
Australia’s attack deserves the highest praise for the manner in which it stuck to its plans. In cricket, too often these days, the phrases “right areas” and “execute game plan” are overused to the extent that they have been rendered largely meaningless. But the extent to which Australia was disciplined and the manner in which each bowler stuck to his method on a warm day ensured that England was forced to work exceptionally hard for each run.
 
With Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook having done the hard work in the final session of the second day, the stage was set perfectly for them to take the game forward and away from Australia. But, while the scoreboard demanded that, the conditions did not allow it. The pitch, which had not been watered for a week leading in to the Test, was bone dry and yet slow. With the sun burning the cloud cover away, conventional swing was at a premium, but the fact that Australia’s bowlers, especially Mitchell Starc, managed to get reverse swing from a ball that was only a dozen overs old, explained how abrasive the pitch was. There was spin and bounce to be had from the rough, the pitch hadn’t deteriorated to the extent that straight balls were up and down.
 
Shane Watson, who was a doubt with the ball after picking up a lower leg niggle in the first innings, showed his mental strength, operating in a tight corridor just outside the off stump, wobbling the ball enough to keep batsmen honest and at one point had the remarkable figures of 13-11-3-0. Watson’s effort epitomised the attitude and skill of the bowling unit, but it was the others who reaped the reward.
 
Pietersen was the first to go, for a hard-fought 150-ball 64, when he offered an angled bat driving away from his body and dragged a James Pattinson delivery on to his stumps.
 
Cook paid the price for closing the face of his bat to an Ashton Agar delivery that found the rough, and when Michael Clarke stretched full length to pouch the catch at slip, the boy wonder had his first scalp. Agar added a second when Jonny Bairstow chased one that gripped and turned, feathering an edge to the wicketkeeper. Although the scoreboard read 174 for 5, England was effectively 109 for 5, thanks to its first-innings deficit, and in serious danger of being strangled out of the Test match.

With the game on the line, and the tone for the Ashes effectively being set, Ian Bell dug deep and delivered. While Bell has rarely played an ugly innings, seemingly all poise and elegant swishes, his Ashes record has been less than special. In 31 Ashes innings before this series, he had managed only one century, and averaged 32.36, a full 12 points below his overall numbers. On the day, though, Bell ensured that he joined a long list of England batsmen, who had done their bit in the contest that matters the most. On the verge of his second Ashes century, Bell may not have put the game beyond Australia yet, but his partnerships of 43 with Bairstow, 44 with Matt Prior, and an unconquered 108 with Stuart Broad certainly left England holding all the aces.
 
The key to Bell’s success was playing late, and straight. The only time the bat went horizontal was when the ball was well wide of the stumps and headed further that way, as when Bell late cut Starc to perfection to the vacant third-man region. Pattinson was deftly placed between the slips cordon and gully twice for boundaries in one over, and the only time Bell was seriously threatened was when Watson beat bat to rap pad, and win an appeal off umpire Kumar Dharmasena, which was unsuccessfully reviewed by Australia.
 
As well as Bell played, though, the Australians never lost hope. The bowlers were relentless.

England ended the day on 326 for 6, a lead of 261, thanks largely to Bell’s unbeaten 95. 

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