• Haryana v England, Ahmedabad, 1st day

Time at the crease enough for Bell

George Dobell in Ahmedabad
November 8, 2012
Ian Bell said facing the second new ball on day two will be good preparation for the Test series © Getty Images

When Ian Bell is an old man, reflecting on his career, it is unlikely he will recall his runs in this match against Haryana with particular pleasure.

On a flat pitch and against a limited attack, England's batsmen were rarely troubled. This was a case not so much stealing candy from a baby, as allowing the baby to pop the candy in your pocket to save you the bother. Batting is rarely more straightforward.

England amassed 408 for the loss of just three wickets on the first day of the game, with all of their batsmen enjoying valuable time at the crease. While Kevin Pietersen will dominate the headlines after an imperious innings of 110, Alastair Cook, Nick Compton and Bell also recorded half-centuries, while Jonathan Trott fell only four short. None of them will have enjoyed many softer innings at first-class level.

But even if this was not the most meaningful encounter, Bell, at least, faced a couple of challenges. Not only was he required to face the bulk of the bowling from Amit Mishra, the one quality spinner to have confronted England on the tour to date, but Bell was obliged to start his innings against him. Mishra did not come on until the 51st over and then claimed two wickets in his first six overs, dismissing both Compton and Trott leg before. But Bell dealt with him comfortably. Although his innings started with a mis-hit lofted shot over mid-on, Bell was soon skipping down the pitch to lift Mishra for two sixes and barely played a false stroke. He resumes on day two unbeaten on 57.

"That was exactly what I needed going into the Test," Bell said afterwards. "He's a quality spinner. He's played a lot of Test cricket. I know he didn't bowl for quite a period of time, but it was nice for me to start against quality spin. That is pretty much what is going to happen in the Tests.

"I feel confident coming down the wicket. It was a super wicket - it skidded on quite nicely - and I just want to be busy. We've talked a lot about using our feet - forwards and backwards - and it's getting as much good footwork going as possible."

India's tactic - and it does appear to be a deliberate tactic - of presenting England with little meaningful warm-up cricket may yet backfire. While it is true that England will go into the Test series having enjoyed little opportunity to bat against good quality spin bowling - or quality bowling of any type, really - they will have benefitted from time at the crease and with the confidence of runs under their belt. Sometimes clever tactics can prove too clever by half.

Certainly that was the view taken by Bell. "We've faced a lot of seam on this trip so far," he said. "But we can't control that. We play what we come up against. Mishra bowled a few overs in the end which was great for me and KP to spend a bit of time against him. And there's the new ball in the morning which is good for me and Samit Patel. The second new ball is going to be crucial over here as well as playing spin, so it's going to be a good challenge for us in the morning."

England are also trying to see the bright side in the unavailability of three first choice bowlers for this game. While it seems most unlikely that Steven Finn, who has a thigh injury, will be fit to play in the first Test, England are hopeful that Graeme Swann, who has returned home due to family illness, and Stuart Broad, who has a heel injury, will both be available. Neither will, perhaps, have enjoyed the warm-up they may have desired, but Bell expressed a belief that the experience given to England's second-string bowlers may prove valuable later in the series. England also rested James Anderson from this game.

"If one of our main bowlers get injured in the first Test, we need backup," Bell said. "These guys have overs under their belt which can only be a good thing for us. When we were in Australia, the reserve guys got an opportunity when we played Australia A in Tasmania and that helped us win the Ashes."

Pietersen is not injured. While the scoreboard may show that he retired hurt, it was only with a view to providing his colleagues with an opportunity to bat. It speaks volumes, however, that even after a commanding century, Pietersen was either not willing or not trusted to speak to the media. The last time he did so freely - the infamous "it's not easy being me" press conference following the Headingley Test in August - precipitated chaos in English cricket and it seems there is some caution being extended to ensure there is no repeat.

In his absence, it was left to Bell to describe Pietersen's feeling upon completing a century.

"Kevin is a guy who likes to get bat on ball so I think he'll be happy to go into the Test with that innings under his belt," Bell said. "Everything has gone pretty well. He's trained well. He's hit the ball well. I'm sure he'll be a lot happier having scored a hundred, but he'll be even happier if he scores a hundred in the next Test.

"We don't want to put too much pressure on him to be the main reason why we win a series. It would be great if he could come out and play some innings like he has in recent times, but as a batting unit if we all have a good series we give our bowlers the opportunity to take wickets. We know if he gets in, we know he can change a Test so we want him in the best nick he can be."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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