In a rare moment of uncertainty and cemented on his backfoot,Ian Bell poked rather uneasily at a Mitchell Marsh in-drifter. The ball travelled far slower than expected and Bell,early into his prod,squirted it back to the bowler. This was the 31st over of the day,but Marshs first. Still fresh to the on-field action,Marsh went at it with hard hands and dropped it. Bell remained not out on 77,his highest score against Australia.
Instantly,the colourful terraces at Edgbaston exploded. Belly,O Ian Belly, they screamed. This isnt Coventry. Use your feet,youre an MBE. Turning red as his jersey with embarrassment,Bell nodded causing a massive round of applause as he shoved his front foot out in his following shadow stroke.
When he was just a little boy,Bell had committed the biggest sacrilege possible in this part of the world,the West Midlands. Born and raised as a wannabe footballer in the football crazy village of Coventry,some 20 miles east from here,Bell chose to support Coventry Citys biggest football rivals,the Birmingham-based Aston Villa. Villa had,after all,won the European Cup (now the Champions League) the year he was born.
Blessed with nimble feet movement from an early age,Bell preferred to work those legs in a football school of excellence,dreaming of playing for Villa one day. Dreaming of scoring against his home town of Coventry someday. But when he didnt make the cut,Bell switched over to the other Midlands passion,cricket. He switched over from Villa Park to Edgbaston. A short walk,which Bell perhaps would have run.
Now,the dream was Warwickshire and England,the rivalry Australia. And until today,and despite having been around for nearly a decade in the game,he had never played them in an ODI on his home ground. The fans knew it,rallying behind his every move on Saturday.
And until that Marsh dropped chance,boy did he move those feet well!
He started off crisp and crunchy. With captain and fellow opener Alastair Cook,Bell put on an opening stand of 57,scoring just 22 of them. But most of his scoring shots then were boundaries. In just his fourth ball of the day,he bounced out of his crease to another Mitchell,driving Starc through the covers for four. Bell used his feet again well against Clint McKay,but this time well within the crease. He pressed ahead,rocked back and punched him sweetly in the V for a second four.
The third arrived not too long after,just before the close of the 10th over,when Bell slapped Shane Watson straight down the ground to set up the tempo of the innings. But once Cook was dismissed,Bell used his feet,in his crease and between the wickets,to physically run his way to a half century.
A throwback to the old one-day game,Bell is one of the few players in the world today who seems to enjoy smaller grounds with ones and twos,rather than looking to clear it. And on large grounds such as his beloved Edgbaston,the ones are easy to convert into twos.
Joined at the crease by England number three and fellow Warwickshire batsman Jonathan Trott,Running Man Bell slipped into his comfort zone,wearing down his cricket boots. Phrases such as tucked away,nurdled into,pushed off and slipped past were thrown about as easily in the BBC commentary box as Bell ran Trott down ragged,inching closer to his fifty (his sixth against Australia) with plenty of 44 yard sprints.
Batting on 60 in the 28th over,Bells soft hands turned firm as he cracked yet another Mitchell in this Aussie side,Johnson,past point for four. In the next,the 29th,he flicked Watson off his pads for four more. When Johnson was lobbed over the keeper for Bells third boundary in as many overs,he entered the 70s. Only for the second time in Edgbaston. Only for the second time against Australia in ODIs,anywhere in the world.
With a hundred for the taking,Bells core strength,his feet,stopped moving between the wickets and,occasionally,in his crease. He was dropped the first time by Marsh on the cusp of the 80s. But he wasnt so lucky in the 90s. As a rooted Bell looked to push at a straight and full James Faulkner ball,it crashed into his stumps. He was on 91.
Nine away,nine away, screamed the terraces in unison. You always pay with feet of clay.