Bell thrives on southern soil again

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Ian Bell continued his extraordinary love-in with the Ageas Bowl and declared: It’s the best wicket in the country.

The England batsman scored his second successive Test century at the venue, after becoming the first man to reach three figures at the ground in the Sri Lanka clash in 2011 with his unbeaten 119.

Ian Bell turns on the style with a reverse sweep against India at the Ageas Bowl

Ian Bell turns on the style with a reverse sweep against India at the Ageas Bowl

Having struck two one-day international centuries, and another four in county cricket, Bell is probably more at home here than if he was batting in his own back garden.

His 167, which included 19 fours and three sixes, was a fluent innings and Bell in full flow is perhaps the most watchable of any England batsman.

It also trumped Gary Ballance’s 156 as the top score, before Jos Buttler (85) added some quick runs to allow England to declare on 569 for seven.

With India 25 for one at the close, the tourists are still 544 runs adrift.

But Bell was full of praise for a pitch that is perfectly suited to him.

He said: ‘It’s obviously nice to come back to a ground you’ve played well at.

‘To me, this is not far off the best cricket wicket in the country now.

‘You get good bounce and nice pace so you can actually use the pace of the ball and play your shots.

‘But also as a bowler, you know you can get your bouncer down there and the nicks will carry.

‘Generally, the one-day wickets are outstanding and the Test wicket against Sri Lanka last time went through nicely. It’s a good cricket wicket again.

‘It’s going to be hard work for the bowlers because it is a good pitch.

‘There will be some deterioration and we will start to see a more spin.

‘If you do hit that pitch hard, there can be a little bit of movement.

‘India dropped a few catches and if they had held them, they would have had us in more trouble.

‘It’s a good Test pitch but we will have to put the ball in good areas.’

Much like it did for skipper Alastair Cook, the Ageas Bowl appears to have done its bit in helping them out of their respective slumps.

And after reaching his 21st Test century, Bell was delighted.

He said: ‘I feel like I have been playing well but finding strange ways to get out.

‘I’ve been getting starts but not going on, which is frustrating – especially when you feel like you are playing quite well.

‘It’s nice to go through and get a big hundred so hopefully we are in a good position now to push this game forward.

‘Your job in the top six is to score runs. Training hard and preparing well doesn’t guarantee results.

‘It’s nice to do that and contribute.

‘It’s been frustrating for all of us in the dressing room. We have created opportunities to win Test matches – we just haven’t taken them.

‘As a batting unit, we want to get back to those habits where we are 560 declared, rather than the bowlers getting us to 450.’

And now the emphasis switches to Jimmy Anderson, who collected the wicket of Shikhar Dhawan (six), Stuart Broad and the rest of the bowlers to run through the Indian batting line-up.

Bell said: ‘Those guys are trying as hard as they can. Hopefully, they will get the ball in good areas and the results will come.

‘As senior players, you want to use your experience and help guys on and off the field. The important thing is to contribute on the field.’