Monday 20 November 2017

England in command despite farcical Bell scenes

Derek Pringle

Over the last two days, England have underlined their superiority by not only winning the batting and bowling honours but also winning the debating prize by persuading India to make a U-turn after Ian Bell was reinstated following his run out for 137 on the stroke of tea yesterday.

The hurrahs for good sportsmanship were quick to follow India's generous and illogical decision, but Test cricket, as its participants are at constant pains to remind us, is meant to be tough, something India's bowlers have certainly discovered after England amassed 441 for six in their second innings.

That is a lead of 374 runs, big enough for India's batsmen to have to rewrite Trent Bridge history if they are to level the series, and big enough too for England to use a second new ball, by far the deadlier of the species in this match so far.

England were only 187 runs ahead when Bell, who had made the first Test hundred of his career batting at number three, was given out after an umpire review lasted several minutes.

The spirit of cricket has its place but it was not being abused here. Bell, who had played superbly to that point, should have remained dismissed, following his naive presumption that a leg-side flick from Eoin Morgan, which had been clumsily fielded at long leg by Praveen Kumar, had gone for four.

His reprieve, after Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss visited India's dressing room during the tea break to plead his case and ask Mahendra Singh Dhoni to withdraw his appeal, should be measured not in runs (Bell added only 22 more before Yuvraj Singh dismissed him fair and square), but in the improved relations between the two boards.

Under Law 27.8, the reprieve should not have been allowed anyway, as any player must be recalled before they have left the field of play. But when there is potential horse trading to be done at board level, laws can obviously have a coach and four driven through them.

India usually adopt a hard line on such matters though with Duncan Fletcher being a former England coach, perhaps a more conciliatory tone was struck.

Guilty

Perhaps they were feeling guilty that the wicket arose, not through any good play on their part, but by the incompetence of their fielding and Bell's doziness.

Bell was guilty of breaking the schoolboy dictum of never leaving your crease unless taking a run or the ball is dead, neither of which was the case here.

What made him do so, after he and Morgan had already completed three runs, was probably India's body language, which had none of the usual urgency or expectancy of an impending wicket.

The crucial part of the sequence began with Kumar being uncertain of whether the ball had touched the boundary rope, after his tumbling efforts to stop it left him disorientated. He flung it to Dhoni who, almost as an afterthought, tossed it to Abhinav Mukund, who then casually removed the bails.

With Bell having wandered down the other end to congratulate Morgan on a session well played, a polite inquiry was made to Marais Erasmus.

Morgan's body language suggested he did not share Bell's presumption and he looked at Rauf, who had handed Ishant Sharma his sweater at this stage, to see if the ball was dead.

Realising it probably was not, he headed off to the pavilion with Bell but with head bowed as if fearing the worst, which of course did and then didn't transpire after the dressing-room diplomacy which took place in the tea break.

It might have been a turning point, had India's bowlers been threatening to scythe through England's batting line-up as decisively as Stuart Broad had with his hat-trick on Saturday, but the evidence of them doing that yesterday, aside from Kumar's double strike with the second new ball, was scant.

In any case, Bell's hundred had already laid the foundations for a decent lead and with Morgan contributing his best knock of the series, and Matt Prior weighing in with another dynamic half-century, this was more England dominance plain and simple as 417 runs were scored in the day. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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