Batting at Ageas Bowl is no stitch up for Bell

England's Mason Crane will make his England Test debut when the fifth Ashes Test begins at Sydney Cricket Ground tonight

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Nigel Gray must surely be on Ian Bell’s Christmas card list by now.

The long-serving Hampshire groundsman is in his testimonial year at the club and if he doesn’t at least get a signed bat from the England star to auction off, there’s something wrong.

Bell simply loves batting at the Ageas Bowl and it’s no wonder after Gray produced another belter of a pitch to bat on.

The 30-year-old batsman now has four centuries to his name at the venue – three for England and one for Warwickshire – and looks an absolute world beater whenever he sets foot at the place.

Bell – who also became the first Test centurion at the venue last summer against Sri Lanka – could be forgiven for sneaking inside at the dead of night, tearing up the pitch, rolling it up and tucking it under his arm.

He may not have the same affection for the indoor school at the Ageas Bowl after a rogue top-edge in a practice session saw his chin split wide open on the eve of the game.

But after a few stitches patched him up and fears of a broken jaw were allayed, Bell oozed class as he led England to one-day success with a classy 126.

Bell, who hit 12 fours and one six in his 117-ball knock, said: ‘It’s gone well for me here – even when I’ve been here with Warwickshire.

‘I enjoy playing here, the wicket is pretty flat and the outfield is quick, so it’s a nice place to come and bat.

‘It was nice to contribute again to help win us the game.

‘I was a bit worried before the scan but as soon as I got the green light that it was fine, I knew I was going to play. It went quite deep to the bone, so there were a few layers of stitches.

‘I was a little bit shaken up and it was strange because it hurt more by my ear, rather than where it hit me.

‘I then saw the blood coming and I didn’t know where from. But I’m really happy now.

‘I felt in pretty good nick by the end of the Test series, so it was nice to go at the top of the order and play some proper cricket shots.’

Understated and almost shy, Bell is no Kevin Pietersen.

But he let his cricket do the talking with some glorious strokes in his pacy knock.

Pietersen turned his back on England’s one-day side recently citing potential burnout and it has given Bell a new opportunity at the top of the order.

It’s a chance he grasped with both hands.

Bell said: ‘I didn’t feel under any extra pressure replacing KP.

‘I felt the normal butterflies as you do for any international.

‘But it was good to get the opportunity. Being at the top of the order was something I wanted to do and it was nice to get the chance.

‘Hopefully, I can kick on.’