Ian Bell held firm for England yesterday, as they looked to build a commanding lead on the third day of the first Test against Australia at Trent Bridge.
At close, the hosts were 326 for six in their second innings, 261 runs ahead, with Bell 95 not out and Stuart Broad 47 not out.
Given Australia had been 115 for nine in their first innings before teenage debutant Ashton Agar made 98 — the highest score by a Test match No 11 — and shared a record 10th-wicket partnership of 163 with Phil Hughes (81 not out), the question was how large a target would England need to set their arch-rivals?
This innings, which saw him pass 6,000 runs in his 89th Test, was an especially important one for Bell.
A criticism of the 31-year-old Warwickshire right-hander is that he has all too rarely scored runs when England most needed them. And after 35 innings without adding to his tally of 17 Test hundreds, England dearly wanted the stylish Bell to go on to three figures with this knock.
England resumed on 80 for two, with captain Alastair Cook 37 not out and Kevin Pietersen 35 not out. But they lost both senior batsmen before lunch.
Pietersen looked in good touch while making 64 out of a third-wickets stand of 110, striking 12 fours, but fell when he played on to James Pattinson, the most threatening of Australia’s seamers.
Left-handed opener Cook spent more than four painstaking hours compiling exactly 50 runs. But he became Agar’s first Test wicket when he aimed leg side across the line of a delivery from the 19-year-old left-arm spinner that landed in the rough and bounced to take an edge brilliantly caught by leaping Australia captain Michael Clarke at slip.
Cook’s exit left England 131 for four as a tense capacity and sun-drenched crowd, watching for the most part in near silence, applauded politely.
Jonny Bairstow didn’t settle and fell for 15 when he pushed forward to a well flighted Agar delivery and was caught behind by wicketkeeper Brad Haddin.
Bell, on 34, was given not out by Kumar Dharmasena after what seemed an exceptionally optimistic lbw appeal by medium-pacer Shane Watson.
However, Australia decided to review the Sri Lankan umpire’s decision, even though Bell had been awarded runs. Replays confirmed what seemed clear to the naked eye and Bell, who’d got off the mark with a typically stylish boundary, carried on.
Australia’s strange decision meant they’d used up all their reviews for the innings and would now have to accept the decisions of the on-field umpires. Matt Prior scored briskly while making 31 in a partnership of 44. After Australia had taken the new ball, the wicketkeeper gave his wicket away when he hooked a Peter Siddle bouncer.