Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Bell not quite there yet

Ian Bell is on the verge of being an excellent Test batsman for England. He has hit four 50s in consecutive innings. The problem, alas, is he invariably fails to go on, a victim of a loss of concentration, a loose shot or, as today, a slight misjudgment. Nonetheless, when the agony of England's narrow loss begins to clear, he can reflect on probably his best Test to date: two excellent, and deeply contrasting innings. But ultimately it was all in vain.

Bell displayed immense powers of concentration during his five-hour vigil. Admirably, he is developing the ability to bat at completely different tempos depending on the match circumstances: he scored at a strike-rate of 35 in the second innings, against 66 in the third. Anyone who can top score in both innings in Sri Lanka clearly possesses immense class and mental resilience. Promoted to number three, however, Bell needs to be making match-defining contributions: which means 150s.

He was on the verge of playing a match-saving innings of wonderful quality before Muttiah Muralitharan was transformed into lethal new-ball bowler. Matt Prior will also feel sickened at having failed to complete the match-saving job but, after his first innings pair, he responded magnificently. Undoubtedly, this was his best international innings to date, infinitely greater than the rather facile runs he plundered against the West Indies.

From reducing the hosts to 42-5 on the opening day, this was a game that gradually slipped out of England's grasp. Primarily, the fault lies with the batsmen, who failed to display the necessary ruthlessness to secure a first innings lead in the region of 150 and succumbed fatally to Chaminda Vaas in the second innings. The two Essex men are of particular concern: Alistair Cook's problem against left-armers may need rectifying out of the side; 'all-rounder' Ravi Bopara was Paul Collingwood's inferior with the ball and, despite some fine shots, lacked solidity at the crease; Mark Ramprakash or Owais Shah would have been more worthy picks. Borderline selection James Anderson, meanwhile, justified my concerns over his place in the side and will surely now be dropped.

In this match, England were ultimately beaten by the better team. Sri Lanka are far from infallible, especially with Sanath Jayasuriya having retired, and their batting line-up has real areas of weakness. After a valiant recovery from 90-5, England will have hopes for the rest of the series. But, unless England can find an answer to Sri Lanka's twin totems, Muralitharan and Kumar Sangakkara, these will only prove fleeting.


Richard Lake said...

Tim, I'd lay the problem with the England performance at the feet of the bowlers. Apart from Hoggard's opening spell, they looked steady but lacking penetration. This was despite the conditions giving some assistance in the 2nd innings whe Jayasuria and Vandort took the game away from England.

Hoggard's injury may give Anderson a stay of execution, but England desperately need more variety in their pace attack, be it Harmison or Broad.

Also I thought Bopara did well with the bat. Given the circumstances that brought him to the crease - Collingwoods loose drive, he and Bell stabilised the innings well. He has great promise and having started with him, I'd keep with him for the rest of the series.

Kudos to Prior though. I may have criticised in the past, but he kept well, and showed that he is not just a flat track bully with the bat. Let's hope he can build on a good match for him.

Tim said...

I certainly hope Anderson gets no stay of execution - even if Hoggard is injured and they decide two spinners is too many, I'd prefer both Broad and Harmison. Either way, I just think England need to take a gamble on Harmison, even though we know it could go wrong. A couple of bad Tests from him and I;d be tempted to get rid.

Innocent Abroad said...

Yes, Bopara did enough to-day to deserve to stay, and so did Matt Prior. Cook must be grateful there's no reserve opening bat in the party.

No point in keeping Anderson, time to blood Broad who should surely have played in this match.

Murali is the difference between the sides, that's very clear.

Chrispy said...

Prior and Bell are coming along but just need that little extra to be the finished articles.

Broad should clearly have played instead of Anderson. Why we went in with 3 swing bowlers, when the ball only swings for the first 10-12 overs and 4 number 10's I'll never know. Broad would have solved many a problem. Also, for as long as Collingwood's bowling is valued over Bopara's it is pointless to exclude the better batsmen for the sake of the so called allrounder. He has potential as a bowler, butnot in Sri Lanka. Owais Shah must play and can hopefully provide a counter attacking option at six in contrast to Collingwood's more defiant resistance. Hoggard is a massive miss for the 2nd test and Cook's vulnerability against left handers is a major concern.

Hope to get on over the xmas break and post a bit Tim! Good work!

Nick Gammons said...

Excellent stuff, Tim. I would have picked Harmison had he been fit for the first Test and Broad otherwise. Now I would definitely pick both. England have to go for broke at Colombo and the thought of two tall bowlers banging the ball in will not thrill the Sri Lankans. If it goes wrong, so be it.

Panesar showed that he can bowl long spells and I doubt Sri Lanka will fear Swann in Test conditions, so playing the extra spinner is not the best option.

How Shah missed out is a mystery and he will be needed if England are to score enough runs to put Sri Lanka under pressure. As Australia showed if you get runs against Sri Lanka they can fold under the pressure.

I think it's premature to call for Cook's head after one match. He has shown before that he can adjust and continue to score runs. I don't think he is particularly susceptible to left armers, but has struggled against accurate bowlers, as many openers have before him. I think he will make some good scores in the next two Tests.