SOUTHAMPTON: Ian Bell ended his century drought as England continued to pile up the runs against India in the third Test at Southampton on Monday. At tea on the second day, England were 452 for five. Bell was 133 not out - his first hundred in 20 Test innings - with Jos Buttler, fortunate not to have made a duck on Test debut, unbeaten on 13. Earlier, Gary Ballance made a Test-best 156 and put on 142 for the third wicket with Bell. England, 1-0 down in the five-match series, resumed on 247 for two, with Zimbabwe-born left-hander Ballance 104 not out - his third hundred in six Tests.
Meanwhile Bell, who might have been lbw for a duck to a brilliant late-swinging delivery from debutant paceman Pankaj Singh, was 16 not out. England’s total also owed much to captain Alastair Cook’s 95 that saw the left-handed opener end a run of low scores if not a sequence that now extends to 28 innings without a Test hundred. India, without the injured Ishant Sharma - the seven-wicket hero of their 95-run win in the second Test at Lord’s - had struggled for penetration after Cook won the toss on an even-paced pitch.
Ballance soon surpassed his previous highest Test score of 110, made last time out at Lord’s, with three fours in four Bhuvneshwar Kumar balls, as a cut was followed by a leg glance and a well-timed punch through midwicket. And with the sun breaking through to make conditions ideal for batting, Ballance pulled Singh to the fine leg boundary to get to 150 in 278 balls with 23 fours. But soon afterwards the 24-year-old was given out caught behind off the gentle spin of Rohit Sharma, the recalled batsman taking his first Test wicket, to end a stay of more than six hours at the crease.
Replays showed the ball had hit Ballance’s back pad, not his bat, on its way through to India captain and wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni but Indian objections to the Decision Review System meant the decision stood all the same. England were 358 for three at lunch, with Bell 68 not out. As Dhoni rotated his bowlers in one-over spells for 15 consecutive overs after lunch, Joe Root (three) was caught behind off Kumar.
Bell’s grand century: But Bell was unaffected, reaching his hundred in grand manner by going down the pitch to drive Ravindra Jadeja for six having given the left-arm spinner similar treatment earlier in his innings. Bell’s 21st Test hundred had come off 179 balls with 12 fours and two sixes and was the 32-year-old Warwickshire right-hander’s first at this level since he made 113 against Australia at Durham’s Riverside ground last year.
The six that saw Bell to his latest century was also the start of a personal scoring sequence of 20 runs in four successive Jadeja deliveries. Bell followed up his straight drive with an elegant cover drive for four before again lofting Jadeja straight back over the bowler’s head and then ending the over with a cut for four. He subsequently on-drove Mohammed Shami for a textbook boundary.
Moeen Ali (12) was well caught at second slip by Ajinkya Rahane off Kumar following a miscued hook to leave England 420 for five. The Kumar-Rahane combination almost dismissed Buttler for nought. Rahane was certain he’d held a low slip catch but on-field umpires Marais Erasmus (South Africa) and Rod Tucker (Australia) referred the decision to television umpire Rob Bailey, the former England batsman. At first glance it looked a fair catch but, as is so often the case in these situations, replays clouded the issue and the wicketkeeper survived.
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