Edgbaston (third day): Gloucestershire 336 and 36-0 Warwickshire 528-8 declared
It was, strangely enough, Chris Broad who put it best. The former England opening batsman might not be renown for his eloquence, but his description of a Brian Lara innings was as masterful as it was accidental. “I’ve run out of expletives for this man,” Broad said
It was an expression that could have been used to describe Ian Bell’s batting. On a sluggish pitch that has made timing the ball almost impossible for other batsmen, Bell produced a gem of an innings.
Statistically, it is impressive. His innings of 215, his third first-class double century, occupied 288 deliveries and included 32 fours.
With Jonathan Trott (164 not out off 247 balls, 20 fours and a six), Bell added 221 for the third wicket in 55 overs and helped Warwickshire to their highest score against this opposition in the 155 first-class games they have contested. Neither man gave the semblance of a chance.
But statistics can never convey beauty and the manner in which Bell gathered these runs was beautiful indeed. There were many highlights but a couple of cuts, delicate yet somehow devastatingly powerful, were particularly pleasing, though the drives and clips through mid-wicket were just about perfect. If there is a finer batsman in England, this journalist has not seem him.
Trott’s innings was an altogether more pragmatic affair. While Bell persuaded the ball to the boundary, Trott bludgeoned it. While Bell was awesome, Trott was effective. You could fall in love with Bell’s batting; you could come to rely on Trott’s.
Certainly, he looked almost immovably solid yesterday. The hesitant character of 2007 is now gone and Warwickshire will celebrate his return to form. Though his second century of the season, it was his first at Edgbaston since April 2006 and only three men (Matt Prior in the top division and Ravi Bopara and Hylton Ackerman in the second) have scored more than his 652 championship runs this summer.
Though Bell eventually perished, caught on the cover boundary as he tried to set up the declaration, Neil Carter, Chris Woakes and, in particular, Ian Salisbury sustained the momentum.
The former top-edged two sixes in succession off the luckless Steve Kirby, before Salisbury (28 balls, seven fours and two sixes) carved the same unfortunate bowler for three fours and a six in an over.
They were valuable contributions. Trott, for all his strengths, increasingly resembles Jacques Kallis in his reluctance - or inability - to change gear, yet with Salisbury producing another selfless and sensible performance, Warwickshire were able to declare last night with a lead of 192.
It was unfortunate that Kirby should be the bowler to suffer. He was, by a large margin, the pick of the attack, impressing Bell with his pace, his persistency and his class.
He would, no doubt, be an asset to Warwickshire, though he could be forgiven for rejecting a future that consists of bowling on such pitches. They serve no purpose.
All his colleagues struggled. Jon Lewis is barely fit, 35-year-old A J Harris is past his best and David Wigley is not good enough. Indeed, it is bewildering to think that anyone in Bristol really thought he was the answer to any of their problems. He also fielded like a colander.
Warwickshire will still have to work mighty hard to win this game. The pitch remains funereally slow and, but for a small area at the City End which is providing some uneven bounce, offers little assistance to bowlers of any description. Gloucestershire negotiated ten overs last night with only the occasional alarm and may benefit from weather interruptions today.
“That innings is right up there [with my best],” Bell said afterwards. “In terms of timing and in terms of the way my feet moved, I couldn’t have played much better.
“It’s nice to convert a start. Perhaps I’ve been guilty of not doing that. Perhaps I haven’t scored enough.
“Do I feel under pressure? Not really. I don’t read the papers much and I feel I’m playing well. The England guys [Peter Moores and Andy Flower] have been very vocal in their support and you’ve just seen the way I’m playing. I feel very confident.
“There is always pressure to improve. I don’t want to stand still. Obviously, I want to convert more of those 20, 40s or 50s into hundreds. The last few months have been a bit frustrating and I know I need to be more ruthless. It’s not a question of being mentally tough - I think I am - but I’m 26 and feel I’ve achieved quite a lot and I do still have my best years in front of me.
“Hopefully, this innings can help me kick-on in the forthcoming series against South Africa. Anytime you spend that amount of time at the crease, it helps you find form and confidence. My England career has pretty much mirrored my Warwickshire career so far in that I’ve started pretty well and then had some times when I haven’t scored the runs I should have done. A big innings like that - or the one at Horsham [an unbeaten 262 against ussex at Horsham in 2004] - is sometimes what you need to get you going again.
“Obviously, Test cricket is very different. to this Steve Kirby was excellent today - really quick and very high-quality - but there were times when there were two part-time bowlers on. You don’t get that in international cricket.”
The way in which Bell celebrated both his hundred, and his double-hundred was revealing. It wasn’t just the reaction of a battle-weary pro.
There was real emotion and joy in his reactions. If any more proof was needed of the affection he has for this club, its people, places and traditions, it was provided.
“It’s nice to play well in front of the members,” he said. “With the result at Leicester going our way, I’m leaving the team in a pretty good position. I’d hope to play in the Twenty20 finals if we get there and I’d like to play in more championship cricket if I get the chance.”
Bell also remarked on the different atmosphere in the dressing room this year to last. Asked whether he would have asked to play in such a game a year ago, he pauses before answering.
“I would have liked to have played,” he says. “But it wouldn’t have been easy. The atmosphere this year is massively different. You can tell that in a moment.
“There’s laughter in the dressing room again. Last year, people were scared. Really, when I came back I just kept my head down and played. I didn’t feel my opinions were wanted. I didn’t find it easy coming back last year.
“It’s taken a while for [director of cricket] Ashley Giles and AD [coach Allan Donald] to get the relaxed atmosphere they’re after. It’s a happy place now.
“There’s no fear of failure and people are happy to express themselves. They’re still ruthless. They are still demanding but they want everyone to enjoy their cricket. It’s the way it should be.
“I wasn’t forced to play in this game. I wanted to. I wanted time in the middle and I wanted to help Warwickshire and Ash is keen for me to speak in team meetings. I’ll do whatever I can to help.”
So, has Bell tried to persuade Kirby to join the club? “Warwickshire doesn’t need me to sell it,” he says.
“The attractions are obvious. Which fast bowler wouldn’t want to work with Allan Donald? The spirit is back. Steve can see that.”