Sunday 22 April 2018

England bank on Bell to relaunch career in style

Ian Bell will be moved up the order to bat at number three at Edgbaston
Ian Bell will be moved up the order to bat at number three at Edgbaston

Scyld Berry

Debacle and disaster though the Lord's Test was for England, they go into the third Test in a stronger position than most of their supporters had originally expected at this stage.

Hanging in at 1-1, England still have home advantage, which is an enormous asset. It translates into Australia having won only three Tests in their past four tours of England - one each in 2005, 2009 and this summer, none in 2013 - for all the brilliant cricketers they have sent here in that time.

England made Mitchell Johnson look unplayable in the second Test at Lord's, where the Australians as a team were at their best: not only the huge hundreds by Chris Rogers and Steve Smith, but also a fine debut by Peter Nevill and excellent change bowling by Mitchell Marsh.

Yet England made Johnson look human in the first Test at Cardiff, where the Australians underperformed.

Edgbaston has been England's most passionate ground - no other stadium can summon up the same unscripted emotion as Edgbaston's Rea Bank when England have most needed patriotism.


This time, for England to go on to regain the Ashes, the stand may have to rise to its biggest challenge: persuading its home-grown son, Ian Bell, that he can shape matches at No 3, rather than cross i's and dot t's down the order.

Today, however, is going to be a tough time for any batsman to relaunch a Test career, with the forecast for showers which will clear in the second half of this week, the pitch tinged greener than Lord's.

The pattern of this series is set to change from the simple formula of win toss, bat big, game over. New balls can be expected to zip around more than at Lord's, at least on day one.

However, this promotion for Bell is a shrewd one. It is a fresh challenge, with familiarity attached.

He has done well for England before at three averaging 39 there, better than 33 at No 4.

Above all, it is the position where he has excelled throughout his Warwickshire career.

On the bowling front, England are to turn to the previously "unselectable" Steven Finn as captain Alastair Cook looks to bury the memory of a Lord's defeat he described as a disastrous performance.

Finn is poised to play in his first Test for two years in place of Mark Wood, who is struggling with a ankle injury.

A recall would end two years of torment for Finn, whose last Test was against Australia at Trent Bridge in 2013.

It was the opening match of the series and Finn bowled quickly in the first innings but in the second innings, with the Test in the balance, he conceded 20 in two overs and was dropped.

It was the first sign of the problems to come and on the Ashes tour that winter he was sent home during the one-day series with the then coach Ashley Giles conceding he was "unselectable" owing to a breakdown in his bowling action.

However, Finn has slowly pieced together his action at Middlesex, and England were impressed with the way he handled the onslaught from New Zealand batsmen during the recent one-day series.

His pace is not what it was when he first broke through and became the youngest England bowler to take 50 Test wickets, but the steep-ling bounce from back of a length still poses problems.

"We're a little bit concerned with Woody and we'll have to make that call in the morning. Woody has played a huge amount of cricket for him over the past six or eight months and we've got to be careful," Cook said.

"Finny has bowled really well for Middlesex and in the one-dayers."

It also makes sense to freshen up the attack after two Tests and Finn has a point to prove.

He has always been expensive but has a knack for taking wickets. His overall strike rate of a wicket every 48.3 balls is similar to the likes of Mohammad Asif and Allan Donald.

Cook was trying to stay positive after the Lord's defeat, saying: "Let's remember the best side won the first game and the best side won the second game, so I don't see any difference in this game.


"It's 1-1, a three-match series now and we need to win two games to do something very special.

"Lord's was an absolute disaster in one sense, after Cardiff to play as badly as that. That's gone now. As professional sportsmen you have to keep looking forward to the next thing rather than keep dwelling on the past."

Wicketkeeper Brad Haddin is available again for Australia but the tourists are set to keep faith with Nevill.

One veteran has survived to fight another day, with Chris Rogers passed fit despite fearing a week ago that his career was over after suffering a dizzy spell at Lord's. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

England v Australia, Live, Sky Sports 2, 11.00

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