A century of class and substance from Ian Bell rescued Warwickshire from a perilous position on the second day against Middlesex.
It was a well-timed innings in several respects. Most pertinently, Bell?s 143 not out kept Warwickshire in this game, while in the longer term, this innings may be highly significant to Bell?s Test prospects.
Without Bell?s input, Warwickshire would have been in deep trouble. On an awkward pitch no-one else could muster the technical skill or concentration required to survive, let alone prosper. Yet thanks to Bell (235 balls, 18 fours) Warwickshire find themselves in a decent position to build a first innings lead today.
England coach Duncan Fletcher will meet up with Bell today to discuss his England prospects. But it?s a shame that none of the England selectors could have been at Edgbaston yesterday. Had they seen this innings, Bell?s inclusion in the first Test squad of the summer (to be announced in a little more than two weeks) would be all but certain.
On a pitch demanding constant circumspection, Bell stood alone. Under pressure to deliver for his side and in the knowledge that the national spotlight is on him, he appeared nerveless. He scored over 100 runs more than any of his colleagues and while they struggled, appeared comfortable. He is a class act and, remember, was only 23 earlier this month.
Of all the candidates for the final places in England?s Test team this summer, Bell is the strongest in terms of both technique and temperament. He is also the youngest and he is in the best form. This century, the 12th of his first-class career and the highest of his four at Edgbaston, followed scores of 96 against Glamorgan and 63 against Kent. He?s ready now.
There is an old-fashioned quality to Bell?s batsmanship. Unlike most of his competitors for a Test spot (Rob Key, Mark Butcher and Kevin Pietersen) Bell is more of an accumulator than an dominator.
In terms of technique he is perhaps most comparable to Mark Ramprakash, but in terms of temperament, comparisons with Geoff Boycott are fair. He rarely gives his wicket away, avoids unnecessary risk, and is prepared to wait for the poor ball and grind out a score if required. He will not be intimidated by Australia.
That?s not to say his innings was not attractive. He used his feet wonderfully well to the spin of Paul Weekes, regularly skipping down the pitch and driving on both sides of the wicket, while he also displayed some pleasing cuts and drives against the faster bowlers. In the course of his innings he passed Alvin Kallicharran?s Warwickshire record for the most first-class runs scored in May; 317 in 1984.
He had one moment of fortune. On 61 he played back to a delivery from the excellent Alan Richardson only to see the ball cannon into the stumps but, miraculously, leave the bails unmoved. Otherwise it was a chanceless innings. Perhaps a few more runs than normal ? and not all intentionally ? came through third man, but on such a pitch, these moments are inevitable and Bell kept his composure throughout.
Richardson bowled well again. Having removed Jonathan Trott when play started at 2pm, playing slightly across the line to one that nipped back, he remained the most demanding of the Middlesex attack.
He is a stone slimmer and a yard swifter than when he was at Warwickshire and, on this form (and on this pitch), would be an asset to any side; which does pose the question: why could Middlesex get more out of him than Warwickshire?
Alex Loudon helped Bell add 88 for the fourth wicket. Loudon again looked a highly promising batsman, timing the ball perfectly off the body as well as unveiling some sweet drives. He was perhaps a shade unfortunate to be very smartly caught at short leg, turning the ball cleanly off the face of the bat straight to Ben Hutton.
Dougie Brown was caught behind, attempting to run a ball down to third man while Tony Frost unveiled a couple of silky cover drives before nibbling at a one he could have left.
Ashley Giles lent steadfast support, however, driving crisply and helping Bell add 91 so far for the seventh wicket.
There is much work to do. The pitch is unlikely to improve and batting last will not be easy. Warwickshire require a sizeable first innings lead to dominate the rest of this game, and Bell?s summer of hard work has hardly begun. He will surely spend much of it on a grander stage.