Sporting Madness: A Sports Blog with Great Poetic Effect

Ashes: Ian Bell the difference between the two sides

Posted by Jigar Mehta

Ian Bell century at Durham

 

Before the start of the Ashes, Australia were peppered with terms like Omnishambles and Oznishambles more often than Shane Watson walks off after reviewing a leg before.  The coach was sacked, punches were thrown around, the skipper stepped down as selector and predictions of a 10-0 mauling flew around.

Even the term underdogs seemed mild for the Aussies as they embarked on the toughest journey of their cricketing lives. All these distractions engendered a certain sense of pessimism and the visitors were made to look like the ugliest team in the universe. After four Tests, England have won and retained the Ashes but that doesn’t paint a true picture of Australia’s performance. They weren’t as bad as they were made to look. Their openers provided excellent platforms, in three of the four Tests they took the first innings lead, their pacers outperformed the fit and fabled English fast bowling line-up in their own den. So what was the difference between the two sides? The answer is Ian Ronald Bell.

Going into the series, the much-vaunted trio of skipper Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen was expected to be the cornerstone of the English batting line-up. Bell’s name never featured. He flew under the scanner following poor performances against New Zealand, averaging a measly 28.25 with just a single half-century from five matches (both home and away). After four Ashes Tests, on the grandest of stages, he has answered his critics in some style with 500 runs in four matches. He has more centuries than the entire Australian team. Moreover, it’s not the matter of how many but when those runs were scored. One of the biggest qualities of a champion team and a player is to perform and succeed under pressure. Bell personifies that quality.

Performing in difficult conditions under enormous pressure, Bell unleashed a deadly combination of resilience and aesthetic strokeplay much to the delight of the Test connoisseurs. Two of his three hundreds were scored in the second innings when England were in dire situations. In the 2nd innings of first Test at Trent Bridge, he hit a steely 109 when England were 121/3, effectively 56/3 given that England were trailing by 65 runs, he added 138 crucial runs for the 7th wicket with Broad and helped England post a target of 311. In the 1st innings of second Test, England were struggling at 28/3 when he arrived at the crease and propelled them to 361 with an exhibition of classy strokeplay. In the 3rd Test at Old Trafford, England were up against a humongous Australian total, Bell scored 60 but most importantly added 115 runs for the 5th wicket with the centurion Pietersen in the 1st innings. Australia dominated the match and deserved to win but the rain gods had other plans. If still doubts remained about Bell’s capability, they were dumped inside the Riverside Ground as he conjured a sublime 113 to pull England out of debris after they were effectively 17/3 in the 2nd innings of the fourth Test at Chester-le-Street.

Patience personified, he has spent 1409 minutes at the crease, facing 997 balls and with textbook technique, silken drives, astute dabs and sublime flicks, still scored all those runs at a decent strike rate of 50.15 which says a lot about the pacing of his innings.

Team

Total 100 stands

Total 50 stands

100 stands in middle order – 3rd wkt to 7th wkt

50 stands in middle order 3rd – 7th wkt

Runs scored by 3rd to 7th wkt stand

Average for the 3rd to 7th wkt

England

6

9

6

6

1612

44.77

Australia

4

8

2

3

1060

26.5

In contrast, the major death blow for Australia was provided by their middle order. They were guilty of not developing core partnerships which cost them the urn. England stitched together six century partnerships in this series, all of them in the middle order. The 3rd to 7th wicket stands amassed 1612 runs at an average of 44.77. In comparison, Australia could manage just 1060 runs at 26.50 with two century stands. One of them was 214 by Clarke and Smith on a flat wicket batting first. In all, the visitors managed just four century partnerships. Their openers have averaged 48.62 in the series and provided some decent starts but the middle order failed to capitalize. In the first Test at Lord’s chasing 311 their openers laid a strong foundation with an 84-run stand but the middle order stammered and they fell tantalizingly short by 14 runs. In the only match where their middle order delivered was in the third Test, the only time they batted first in the series and hence without any pressure on a flat pitch. The game in Durham was theirs to lose after they were 109/0 but the same old story repeated and they capitulated under pressure losing 9 wickets inside two hours 36 minutes and 35.3 overs. Staggeringly, Bell was involved in five of the six middle-order century partnerships. Perhaps the one thing that the Australian middle order should have learnt from Bell was the art of grinding it out in the middle with patience and immense concentration. In fact, they could have learnt that art from Chris Rogers himself. On numerous occasions they were guilty of throwing their wickets away.

 

Australia’s version of Bell was supposed to be skipper Clarke but apart from one innings at Old Trafford, he never turned up. His tendency to become a bowler’s bunny in a series has made it easy for the opposition captains to chalk out a specific plan for his dismissal. Ravindra Jadeja removed him five times in the series against Australia this year and Broad so far has ripped through him five times in this series. Being the heart of this Aussie side, a lot of introspection is needed on his part too.

So close but yet so far, it wasn’t the worst performance from the Aussies but there are a lot of lessons to be learnt. This is a side in transition, and Clarke has asked supporters to be patient with this outfit, “Everyone says rebuild, rebuild, rebuild, but you need guys in first-class cricket making runs to take someone’s slot. We have to continue to show faith in these guys – it takes time playing against good opposition.” But the point is, they have lost seven out of their last eight matches; there is a serious need for damage limitation and hence the need for two or three good reinforcements. If proper selections along with ego alterations could help rope in players like Simon Katich, George Bailey and David Hussey, who have wealth of experience in the first-class circuit, the Aussies could find themselves in a much better position. Develop the youngsters into finished products rather than fast-tracking them into the national side. They need to re-establish the winning habit and then reincarnate the ruthlessness with which their predecessors killed the opposition.

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