Few cricketers have delivered more joy to spectators during their career then Ian Bell.
Following Bell’s announcement that he will retire from playing at the end of the season, Brian Halford selects five of the Bears legend’s greatest innings for Warwickshire. It was a hard shortlist to draw up…
262* v Sussex at Horsham, 2004
Batting conditions were very favourable but it still takes some doing to bat flawlessly for almost ten hours. That’s what Ian Bell did as a 22-year-old in the innings which saw him become the Bears’ youngest double-century maker and move to the threshold of a Test career which was to begin a couple of months later.
Bell went in with the Bears on 49 for one and was still going strong when they declared at 600 for six, having shared an unbroken partnership of 289 with Tony Frost (135 not out). Against an attack led by spin genius Mushtah Ahmed, he first led the Bears out of trouble at 166 for five and then expanded glorious strokes all round the lovely, sylvan Sussex outgtound.
He reached 100 in 230 balls, advanced to 200 in 416 and ended unbeaten on 262 from 481 balls with 27 fours and six sixes. Clearly, this young player had the technique and temperament to make the most of his huge talent.
121 v Kent at Edgbaston, 2004
Many great innings are played in front of big crowds on showpiece occasions, but some true jewels are unfurled in front of the hardy regulars in regular county games. This was one such. On a grey August morning, Bell illuminated Edgbaston with an innings touched by genius.
Warwickshire decided to bat and were soon 29 for two after losing openers Nick Knight and Mark Wagh to Kiwi paceman Ian Butler. Butler and Antiguan quick Robbie Joseph were extracting plenty of life from the pitch. Bell’s response…to unfurl a sequence of glorious cover and off-drives which made the morning session into a privilege to watch for the Edgbaston regulars. This was one just for them!
Bell’s 121 came from just 144 balls with 23 sparkling boundaries before he was bowled by future team-mate Alex Loudon. An exquisite innings.
107 v Somerset at Lords, 2010
Bell skippered the Bears in the inaugural day/night Lord’s final, the Clydesdale Bank 40, and delivered the archetypal captain’s innings to see them into victory. This was world-class white-ball batting.
Led by Imran Tahir’s five-for, the Bears limited Somerset to 199, a moderate target but far from a formality in helpful bowling conditions. When the Bears wobbled to 39 for three, it was game on.
But Bell unfurled a true leader’s innings. First, in alliance with Jim Troughton, he shored up his team’s reply and then, when wickets started to tumble again at other end, he moved into a high-class counter-attack.
He paced the pursuit to perfect, crowning it with a flurry of fours which took him from 87 to 107 in six balls. The skipper perished with the scores level – and the job brilliantly done. For this proudest of proud Bears, to score a ton in a Lord’s final and then lift the trophy…well, even within his stellar career, this was a day to treasure.
120 v Durham at Edgbaston, 2012
The true measure of a cricketer is whether he or she delivers when it really matters: when the team really needs it.
When the Bears, having bowled Durham out for 163 (Keith Barker and Chris Wright sharing nine wickets) lurched to 14 for four in reply, they were in serious need. Durham’s talented pace attack – Graham Onions, Callum Thorp, Mitchell Claydon – were moving the ball about all over the place. So far in the match, 177 wickets had fallen for 14 wickets.
Ian Bell got to work and transformed his team from hurtling to defeat to charging to victory.
Watchful and skilful in defence, he seized rapaciously on anything which allowed him to attack, moving to his half-century in 97 balls and then completing a brilliant century from 198 balls. He finished with 120 from 220 balls with 14 fours and a six and set up a nine-wicket win which helped create the momentum which was to take the Bears all the way to the championship title.
Seven years earlier, Kumar Sangakkara had played one of the greatest innings ever for the Bears, a century against Durham at Edgbaston. This knock from Bell compared with that one.
131 v Northants Steelbacks at Edgbaston, 2018
When the Steelbacks piled up 231 for five in this North Division match, the Bears knew that only some pretty special batting could get them close. Under the scoreboard-pressure of a very tall target, Bell delivered something special.
The Bears ace had recently heard Kumar Sangakkara comment that, batting in T20, you often had more time than you think. Bell took that on board and played a brilliant, exquisitely-paced innings which took his side to the brink of a sensational victory.
He reached 50 in 27 balls and advanced to 100 in 50 during a T20 world-record third-wicket stand of 171 with Adam Hose (64, 39 balls). Bell went on to hit 11 fours and seven sixes in a stunning 62-ball 131 to break the back of the chase. It was the ultimate proof that, even in the frenetic world of T20, high-class orthodox bating can tower.
When he fell to the first ball of the final over, the Bears were favourites to pull off a sensational win. The game eventually ended in a tie…but what a match and, from Bell, was an innings.
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