First Test, at Lord's (Day 2 of 5)
England 593-8 dec (I R Bell 199, K P Pietersen 152, S C J Broad 76, A N Cook 60, M Morkel 4-121) v South Africa 7-0
Ian Bell silenced his critics with a stunning display to spearhead England's most dominant batting performance for five years in the opening npower Test against South Africa.
The Warwickshire batsman has been one of a number of names mentioned as possible candidates to make way when key all-rounder Andrew Flintoff is regarded as fit enough to make his Test comeback.
Having scored only 45 runs in four innings against New Zealand, he knew the time was ripe to deliver in the opening Test at Lord's and returned to county cricket last week in a desperate attempt to rediscover his form.
It was the perfect fillip, with Bell making 215 against Gloucestershire and falling only one run short of claiming successive double centuries to help England declare on 593 for eight before South Africa ended the second day at Lord's on seven without loss.
Bell's stunning display in over eight hours at the crease included a six and 20 fours - easily eclipsing his previous best Test score of 162 against the less taxing opposition of Bangladesh three years ago - and helped England record their highest total since declaring on 604 for nine against the same opposition at The Oval in 2003.
But his performance was worth far more than mere statistics and by the time South Africa trooped off following 156.2 taxing overs, he had made a major statement of intent both for himself and for a top six who had previously gone 12 Tests without scoring a first-innings total in excess of 400.
Resuming overnight on 75 with England on an already-commanding 309 for three, Bell knew today was a massive chance to emerge from a reputation as a highly-talented player who failed to make his mark when it really counted.
That accusation could not be levelled at him after he shared two major stands with Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad to thoroughly demoralise a South African side who had high hopes of rattling England after winning the toss in favourable conditions on day one.
From the very first ball, Bell looked composed, while Pietersen was reckless at times and was fortunate to survive on 121 when he gloved an attempted hook off Makhaya Ntini only for the ball to drop out of wicketkeeper Mark Boucher's despairing reach down the leg side.
He was also given another reprieve on 133 when he drove all-rounder Jacques Kallis back down the pitch but he was unable to take the smart return catch. His luck failed to last, however, and after progressing to an outstanding 152, he was dismissed with a lifting delivery from Morne Morkel, which this time he gloved down the leg-side to give Boucher a more comfortable catch.
Bell had already reached three figures when his 286-run stand with Pietersen was finally broken, but England and a Lord's crowd were demanding a major innings from him to finally break away from a reputation as an under-achiever.
Joined at the crease by Paul Collingwood - another player desperately under pressure for his place after a barren run with the bat - their stand was broken almost immediately when even luck deserted the Durham all-rounder.
Pushing forward defensively to left-arm spinner Paul Harris just two balls after a rain break, South Africa appealed for a catch at short leg which was wrongly upheld by umpire Billy Bowden.
Collingwood did well to contain his frustration as he made his way back to the pavilion having scored just seven, particularly when television replays proved conclusively that the ball had missed his bat and bounced off his pad.
Warwickshire wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose was also unable to keep Bell company during his marathon shift and edged Morkel to slip shortly after lunch but once again Broad demonstrated his growing reputation as a high-class all-rounder.
Having hit a career-best 64 in his previous Test against New Zealand at Trent Bridge, Broad picked up where he left off and contributed fully to a 152-run stand which must have driven South Africa's highly-rated attack to distraction.
This time, Broad reached 76 and perhaps had his eyes set on his maiden Test century before he was bowled attempting to slog Harris.
The same misfortune befell Bell six overs later when he needed just one run to reach his maiden Test double-hundred knowing captain Michael Vaughan was ready to halt the innings at any minute.
Attempting to force Harris down the ground, Bell mistimed his shot and gave the spinner a sharp return catch which he took, prompting the immediate declaration from Vaughan.
Facing a testing final part of the day when they began their reply, South Africa only faced 3.2 overs before rain and bad light halted play to give them a welcome reprieve from England's dominance.