First Test Match

Two wonderful things happened this afternoon, while I was watching the rugby. The first is that Ian Bell was out for 4. The second is that the West Indies reduced England, at one point, to 26-7, after a fantastic spell from Jerome Taylor, whose figures are 9-5-11-5, and have just dismissed them for 51, to win by an innings and 23 runs.

The first thing is wonderful, as it really ought to mean that the selectors call time on Ian Bell’s Test career. Since hitting 199 against South Africa, Bell has had a dozen Test innings, with scores of 31, 4, 50, 20, 24, 4, 17, 7, 1, 24*, 28 and now 4, for an average over the period of about 19.5. He’s always been vulnerable to the charge that he gets cheap runs — although his overall Test average is 40.59,  his average against the three strongest sides in world cricket (Australia, India and South Africa) is only 28.66, and (my favourite factoid), although he’s hit eight centuries, he’s never reached 100 in an innings when someone else hasn’t reached 100 first. So another Bell failure is a good thing, as it would just be embarrassing to have Bell batting in the Ashes this summer.

The second thing is wonderful, insofar as it’s not good for cricket to have an enfeebled West Indian side. They’ve been too poor for too long, and it’s high time series involving the West Indies became competitive again. It’s also a good thing that their fine performance has been based on several individual contributions, batting and bowling, but without anything special from Chanderpaul, who has been their most reliable player over the last couple of years. That bodes well for the future.

The trouble, of course, is that the second thing might counteract the first. If England had batted well, and only Bell had failed badly, it’d be obvious to drop him. But England’s batting was so bad, to the extent that Bell, with his scores of 28 and 4, was in fact the fourth-highest scorer in both innings. And given that the selectors have given Bell far too many chances in the past, this collective batting disaster might give the selectors yet another excuse to keep him in the side. Bugger.

7 thoughts on “First Test Match”

  1. I can see him becoming the new Graeme Hick: he’s much more talented than his potential rivals (Shah more than deserves his chance, but he’s not likely to be a reliable number three, let alone a great one) and he can pile up the runs againsthe weaker attacks. He’ll quite likely make shedloads backat county level and so he’s bound to get a recall befoe too long. And then another, and another….but the facts are, he can’t play good fast bowling any more than Hick can, that only Fletcher’s desire to stick by his team no matter what kept Bell in the Ashes-winning side and that any good fast bowler is going to fancy a go at Bell just like they liked to have a go at Hick.

  2. There’s a difference, though, which is that Hick never had much help making the step up from county to Test cricket. There was an easy assumption that because he’d hit so many runs in county cricket for so long, he’d be a natural in Tests. Curtly Ambrose and the others quickly found him out, but the England set-up didn’t have the coaching resources to help Hick sort himself out – so they just kept yo-yoing him in and out of the team, in the hope that his luck would change. Bell’s playing in a different era — he’s had all the assistance his batting could possibly get, and he still can’t cut it against quality opposition. I feel (and felt) sorry for Hick; but nothing of the sort for Bell.

    (If Bell looks like a chipmunk, Pietersen went through his skunk phase. It’s curious, isn’t it?)

  3. It should be said in Bell’s defence that he averages nearly 10 runs more in test cricket than Hick managed (40.59 to 31.32), although Hick had to deal with Ambrose, Walsh, Wasim, Waqar, Donald etc in their prime, whereas Bell made lots of his runs against the likes of Bangladesh and a Pakistan attack whose frontline bowler was Mohammad Sami.

    That said, I prefer Bell to Collingwood, if only because Bell is at least pleasing to watch during his short spells at the crease. Collingwood is a glorified one-day batsman with a desperately limited technique and whose record suggests his reputation as a ‘scrapper’ is only occasionally deserved.

    Indeed, all of England’s top five continue to average over 40, which obscures the fact that – Pietersen excepted – they fail a whole lot more than they succeed. Each has been reliant on a ‘career-saving’ innings to retain their place over the last year or two, after which they have reverted back to mediocrity.

  4. Maybe I’m biased against young Bell from too much reading of Guardian OBO commentary, but I think in part it’s the weakness of the much of the rest of the top five that makes the case against him more damning. If the other batsmen were functioning better, the team could much more easily afford to carry someone like Bell. But it isn’t, so it can’t. In particular, he raises a problem for the batting order. He’s not a good person to have come in at three, but if they don’t want to have Pietersen come in at three (and I can see why he’s best off at four), then there’s a problem, as you certainly can’t put Collingwood there. So Bell it is.

    At least Strauss and Collingwood do on occasion hit a career-saving innings, i.e., getting large scores when it really matters (not just to them, but to England). Bell has the same mediocrity as the others, but when the pressure’s on, he’s almost certainly going to fold

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