Edgbaston (second day): Gloucestershire 336 (H J H Marshall 121, W T S Porterfield 74, S D Snell 54 no, C S Martin 5-84) v Warwickshire 143-2 (I R Bell 95 no)
Much water has passed under the bridge since Ian Bell scored a championship century for Warwickshire.
In the 39 months since that double-hundred against Middlesex (April 2005) he has graduated from the ranks of ‘bright young thing’, to England regular and, in the eyes of some, yesterday’s man.
Perhaps the runs have not flowed at international level as we thought they might. A Test average of 41 and 25 scores of 50 or more (in 70 innings) hint at real class. But Bell would be the first to admit he is yet to go on and produce the quantity of big scores that his talent demands. For that reason Bell’s place in the England side has come under increasingly scrutiny.
Fortunately Peter Moores, the England coach, is as big a supporter of Bell’s batting as anyone. While he will certainly have to turn the pleasing starts into something more substantial if he is to remain an England regular, Moores will ensure he wins a prolonged opportunity. Aged 26, Bell surely has his best years ahead of him.
Certainly, on the evidence of this game, any suggestion of omitting Bell from the Test team is madness. He batted beautifully. While nobody else but Hamish Marshall has hinted at fluency, Bell timed the ball with a sweetness that few can rival and will resume this morning on the brink of a 22nd first-class century.
True, conditions bore little resemblance to Test cricket. The pitch remains torturously slow and it would surely take a prolonged outbreak of the Black Death before David Wigley’s name ever cropped up at an international selection meeting.
Yet Bell (136 balls, 14 fours) showed a welcome hunger for runs and, in negotiating a couple of testing spells from the excellent Steve Kirby, showed the technique and application required to prosper at the higher level.
The on-loan duo of AJ Harris and Wigley were punished particularly severely. Drawn into bowling too straight by Bell’s superb judgement at which balls to leave outside off stump, the pair were drilled through the covers and mid-wicket with regularity. Yet while lovely drives off front and back foot dominated, Bell also late cut delightfully and made sure he did not miss out on the bread and butter shots to third man and fine leg.
Bell’s excellence helped Warwickshire into a decent position in this match. After losing Michael Powell early, fencing at a sharp ball, Bell added 100 with Navdeep Poonia in 31 overs.
Poonia (93 balls, three fours) battled hard. While never fluent, he did demonstrate a much tighter defensive technique than has been apparent in the past and, in his timing of a back foot drive back past Kirby, underlined the impression that he is a highly talented young man.
Alas, with the hard work done, he perished to a horrible stroke. Perhaps growing impatient, he was lured into an ugly slog-sweep against the tempting off-spin of Marcus North and simply missed.
Kirby bowled very impressively. He bothered both Bell and Poonia, probing away on off stump and finding just enough bounce and seam movement to remain a threat. Not only did he work up a sharp pace despite the lifeless track, but he hardly delivered a poor ball in three well-sustained spells. It is easy to see why Warwickshire are interested in acquiring his services.
Whether they will be successful is quite another matter. It will take a long-term offer in excess of £100,000 a season to lure him away from Bristol and a benefit season. Well though he is bowling, he will be 31 in October.
Earlier Warwickshire did well to dismiss Gloucestershire for 336 after the visitors had been 243 for three. Chris Martin became the first man to take five championship wickets on debut since Makhaya Ntini in 2005.
North was the first batsman to go, pinned on the foot by a ball he played across, before Marshall and Chris Taylor departed in identical fashion, pulling directly to mid-wicket.
In truth there was more than a touch of the long-hop about both deliveries. Yet Neil Carter deserves some credit for both bowling to his field and to a plan.
Alex Gidman was next to go. Pushing at one outside off stump, Gidman was held, almost unbelievably well, by Botha, diving forwards and to his left at second slip. To add to Gidman’s troubles, he dislocated a thumb in practice and is unlikely to take any further part in the game.
Lewis slashed to the point boundary, Wigley was sent back after attempting an impossible second run and Kirby skied a pull. Harris was yorked, first ball, to present the persevering and deserving Martin with his fifth wicket.
Later, in a low-key and good natured members’ forum after the close of play, Allan Donald gave a ringing endorsement of the qualities of 19-year-old Chris Woakes. “He’ll play for England one day,” Donald said. “I’ve no doubt about that. It’s just a question of when.”
Asked whether he intended to make any further approaches to players from other counties, Ashley Giles said he had “no-one [else] in mind”, reiterating his desire to develop from within. “The temptation is to think that the grass is always greener elsewhere,” he said, “but it is very rarely so.”
Dealing with off-field matters, Colin Povey said that he hoped the club would submit a planning application for the ground development in the autumn. That would mean work would begin at the end of next season and should be completed in time for the India Test of 2011.