Ashes 2013: Ian Bell’s game-changing performance could take his career to the next level

Ian Bell’s saga in the ongoing series has been one of guts, grit and glory. Here, he plays the late cut — a shot that best illustrates his current form © Getty Images

Nishad Pai Vaidya looks back at Ian Bell’s latest ton at Chester-le-Street during the fourth Test match of the Ashes.
The game was in the balance. The Australian seamers had rattled the English top three leaving the home side at a precarious 49 for three in the second essay. With the conditions still suiting the bowlers, Ian Bell commenced a recovery job in the company of Kevin Pietersen. Coming into the game at the back of two tons in this series, Bell seized the initiative and made it look a cinch. All the talk about the bowlers getting help vanished as his sublime touch was on show and took England to a position of strength.

With the ton at Chester-le-Street, Bell has become the 10th Englishman to score three or more hundreds in an Ashes series. This is a remarkable achievement for someone who started off poorly against the old rivals in 2005. Here is a list of Englishmen who have scored three or more hundreds in an Ashes series:

Player Series 100s
Herbert Sutcliffe 1924/25 4
Wally Hammond 1928/29 4
Jack Hobbs 1911/12 3
Jack Hobbs 1924/25 3
Maurice Leyland 1934 3
David Gower 1985 3
Chris Broad 1986/87 3
Michael Vaughan 2002/03 3
Alastair Cook 2010/11 3
Ian Bell 2013 3*

The intriguing thing is that only three of those ten have managed the feat in England. Bell becomes the third Englishman after Maurice Leyland and David Gower to score three centuries in an Ashes series at home. The others have done it in Australia — Jack Hobbs managing the feat twice. Alastair Cook, England’s current captain, did it during their last sojourn Down Under and it was a career changing performance. The southpaw hasn’t looked back since then and is counted amongst the best in the world. Will this performance take Bell’s career to the next level?

Bell has always been a good, attractive stroke-player, but there has been a reluctance to count him in a distinguished league. That has been partly due to the fact that he may not have been as consistent as some of the other batsmen going around. Also, one of the commentators threw light upon a stereotype, “Bell scores when the others around him get runs.” As he pointed out, in this series it is Bell alone who has been consistent for England with the top-order being a bit jittery.

The innings at Chester-le-Street was a class apart. Batting wasn’t the easiest task and scoring runs required great determination. Ask Chris Rogers. The 35-year-old fought and prodded his way to a maiden Test hundred. The English seamers, Stuart Broad in particular, gave him a tough time and had beaten him on numerous occasions. In contrast, Bell looked in complete control of the situation against a confident Australian attack.

The classy strokes kept coming. Perhaps, the one that best illustrates his form is the late cut. On one occasion early in his innings, he played it through the slip cordon and guided it with his subtle wrists. Considering the fact that the ball was doing a bit and Australia were confident, it was a risky ploy. But, when you can see it like a football out there, you tend to middle almost everything. That shot was played repeatedly later in the innings and it was only one that he looked troubled while attempting it.

Even off the front-foot, Bell looked glorious. If it was pitched in his half, the front-foot moved towards the ball positively and the bat met it with the full face to take it to the boundary. It was all touch and timing. Even the off-spinner Nathan Lyon was merely pushed through mid-off to the boundary.

If one takes into account the hundred he scored during the Sydney Test of the Ashes 2010-11, then Bell has four tons in five matches against Australia. This series may have been against a relatively weaker (when compared to attacks of previous years) Australian attack, but the runs have come in tough situations and when both sides were fighting for control. Thus, Bell has been the true gamechanger for his side during this Ashes series and deserves full credit for helping them retain the urn.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)