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Bell in the 'form of his life' as he compiles another Ashes hundred
IAN BELL is revelling in being in 'the form of his life' after his unbeaten century helped England claim a dominant position in the fourth Ashes Test at Chester-le-Street.
Bell will resume on 105 this morning as England look to build on their 202-run advantage to claim a 3-0 lead in the series and win the Ashes outright.
The hosts still have five second-innings wickets intact, and will be looking to add at least another hundred runs with two full days of play remaining.
Yesterday's century was the 20th of Bell's Test career – England have not lost any of the other 19 matches in which he has scored a hundred – and he became only the third English player in history to score three centuries in the same Ashes series on home soil, following in the footsteps of Maurice Leyland and David Gower.
He enjoyed a successful period in 2011 against Sri Lanka and India, but having also scored centuries at Trent Bridge and Lord's this summer, admits he is in the best spell of his career.
“It's right up there,” said Bell, who also scored a hundred in the final game of the last Ashes series in Sydney. “I think that little period in 2011 felt pretty good, but this is definitely right up there in terms of my career.
“It's difficult to say what's clicked. Against New Zealand (at the start of the summer), I was playing well, getting starts, but not getting on. The best thing was Graham Gooch (England batting coach) saying to me not to change anything. The temptation would have been to try to change something, but I haven't and fortunately I've come good in the biggest series for us.
“I believed I was good enough to score Test hundreds against Australia, but it took a while. I started against one of the best Test teams of all time and that was a real baptism. I learned a hell of a lot from some great players.
“I've had to work really hard this series and I've got a lot of respect for this Australian attack. But it's been enjoyable this time to get hundreds and maybe put to bed some of what's happened in the past.”
While the Durham Emirates ICG pitch has not really deteriorated over the last three days, it is still going to be extremely tough for Australia to chase anything more than 300.
Yorkshire successfully chased down 339 to win a County Championship game against Durham in April, but that was something of an anomaly on a ground that does not usually lend itself to successful fourth-innings pursuits.
There has been a hint of uneven bounce, and while Nathan Lyon was hardly spinning the ball sideways yesterday, there is a strong chance that Graeme Swann will extract more turn if he is called upon later today.
Nevertheless, Bell insists England will be taking nothing for granted, particularly as Australia's bowlers can take the new ball after just six overs of play this morning.
“Are we confident of winning? Not yet,” he said. “I'd rather have the 200 runs on the board than be chasing them, but we've seen already with Australia that they'll go all the way.
“The Trent Bridge pitch didn't deteriorate like we thought it would, and this might stay very similar so we want as many runs as we can get.
“If we can start getting the lead over 300, I'll be a little more confident, but this Australian team will keep coming and a few of their batsmen are in a bit of form now. I expect some really exciting cricket in the next two days.”
Bell came to the crease yesterday with England in trouble at 49-3, but just as he had at Trent Bridge and Lord's, the Warwickshire batsman helped engineer a spirited fightback.
His partnerships with Kevin Pietersen have been a key factor in England retaining the Ashes, and he claims neither he nor Pietersen get too concerned about the state of the game when they stride to the crease.
“I've tried to forget the situation, and the way I've played has given me confidence,” said Bell. “I've felt in pretty good touch and that's a nice place to be.
“I've tried to keep it simple – watch the ball, play the ball. It doesn't matter if we're 100-1 or 20-3, it's still the same game. Touch wood, I've played well in the series so far.”
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