• England v Australia, 2nd Investec Test, Lord's, 1st day

Bell prevents meltdown but Smith turns up heat

The Report by David Hopps
July 18, 2013 « Live County Championship coverage | Chartbeat test »
Stumps England 289 for 7 (Bell 109, Bairstow 67, Smith 3-18) v Australia
Live scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Ian Bell became the fourth Englishman to make centuries in three consecutive Ashes Tests © Getty Images
Enlarge
It was a sweltering summer's day with the prospect that Lord's would stage one of the hottest Tests - perhaps the hottest - in its history. And in this scorching atmosphere, so warm, by Gad, that a spectator was spied wearing a knotted handkerchief in the pavilion, Ian Bell produced his third Ashes hundred in succession to try to guard against an England calamity on the first day of the second Investec Test.

But on hot days like these, strange things happen. Birds fly backwards, trees talk to each other and derided legspinners rediscover their ability to pitch it - or normally pitch it - and take joy in a skill reborn. Steve Smith, armed with noticeable spin and what was now a misleadingly cherubic style, took 3 for 12 in 22 balls as the day took an unexpected turn.

If the day was dominated by Bell, it ultimately belonged to Australia, who bookended it in style. They even have the luxury of beginning the second day with the bowlers fresh and a new ball only two overs old.

This was meant to be Bell's story. At the SCG, Trent Bridge and now Lord's, he has secured his reputation. He came to the crease at 28 for 3, with England collapsing in front of the Queen - and, for that matter, Ryan Harris - but followed Jack Hobbs (twice), Wally Hammond and Chris Broad in making hundreds in three successive Ashes Tests.

The Big Easy is variously an American movie, a Chelsea restaurant and the nickname for New Orleans. But at Lord's the Little Easy was a freckled Brummie securing his cricketing reputation. If Trent Bridge, a strikingly slow, dead surface, had been a test of his acumen, Lord's increasingly became a pleasure.

On drowsy days like these, the serenest batsman can seek to make a big Test score without causing the merest rustle of a leaf; to amass run after run with the most slumbering members, mouths agog at the heat rather than the cricket, barely taking notice; to make a major contribution without leaving the slightest indentation. Bell is that type of player: understated in an age of overstatement.

England needed Bell's input because Harris, a stout man bowling with aggression and intent, barging through the heat haze like a combine harvester powering through a cornfield, had three for 28 in 13 overs by tea. Like the best harvester, Harris maintained an immaculate line.

England recovered, first through Jonathan Trott's consummate half-century, then with a stand of 144 in 43 overs for the fifth wicket between Bell and Jonny Bairstow to stabilise the England innings.

Then Smith took a hand. His sixth ball turned sharply, to have Bell easily caught at first slip; Bairstow knocked back a low full toss as he was deceived in the flight; and Matt Prior misread the length of one delivered out of the front of the hand and was caught at the wicket. For Australia's captain, Michael Clarke, it was a reward for his willingness to experiment rather than just await the second new ball.

Bairstow, who hit 67, had used up his fortune earlier. His fallibility, whipping across a full-length ball, was again evident when Peter Siddle bowled him on 21, only to be reprieved when the umpire called for a TV replay and Siddle was shown to have overstepped. It took a magnified image to prove it.

The UK heat wave was designed to remind Australia of home - and they have an excellent record on this ground too, with 16 victories and six defeats in 36 Tests. As the crowd queued down from St John's Wood tube station, few expected them to make a start like they did. England, who must have sensed a bountiful batting day after winning the toss, began gingerly: Alastair Cook, Joe Root and Kevin Pietersen all departing.

The Queen was presented to both sides before play began. She does not normally linger at the cricket - horse racing is her true passion - and once somebody had tried to explain the Decision Review System, she doubtless made her excuses and left.

But she would not have had to linger overlong to be aware of the fall of England wickets. Three were dispensed with in the little matter of six overs as Australia, 1-0 down in the series, made the start they had barely dared imagine.

Clarke gave the medium pace of Shane Watson an airing after only four overs and it worked like a charm. Cook forever fights against the tendency to get his head too far over to the off side and a gentle inswing bowler, bringing the ball back down the slope, could potentially expose that. It took two balls; Cook trapped in front. The umpire, Marais Erasmus, spared the onerous TV duties he had to shoulder at Trent Bridge, considered at length before giving Cook out. Watson's spell lasted a single over.

England's refashioned opening partnership of Cook and Root, assembled after the dropping of Nick Compton, has yet to reach fifty in three attempts. This was definitely a chance wasted.

Root's decision to review Harris' lbw decision in the next over was appropriate because he could not be entirely sure if the ball had struck bat before pad. But replays suggested that Root had squeezed it - with the pad fractionally first - and Tony Hill, the third umpire, rightly found no reason to overturn umpire Kumar Dharmasena's on-field decision.

Pietersen lasted only four balls, his two runs courtesy of a thick edge against Harris backward of square. Harris had him caught at the wicket, targeting the stumps and maintaining an attacking length as one of Australia's finest, Glenn McGrath, did on his appearances at Lord's.

TV cameras showed the Long Room for the first time and revealed Pietersen giving a gentle tap to a stanchion as he passed through it, just polite enough to escape too much of a ticking-off, but inviting the question whether the stanchion was protecting KP from the members or the other way round.

Trott and Bell began as passively as possible, leaving as much as they could until the game settled. James Pattinson sampled both ends at Lord's by lunch without entirely settling to either. Siddle soon reddened in the heat. But a fourth wicket at 120 kept the initiative with Australia as Harris led Trott into an uncontrolled pull and Usman Khawaja held the catch at deep square.

Bell did not hit a single boundary down the ground in his hundred at Trent Bridge. He again prospered square of the wicket here. But when he did go down the ground, handsomely so, against Siddle, it illustrated that this Lord's pitch was far more amenable to good cricket than its predecessor. "It will turn, too," the experts said. And then, by Gad, Steven Smith proved it.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Close