England extend advantage in Ashes opener

CARDIFF, July 10

Ian Bell put a run of low scores behind him with a valuable fifty as England extended their advantage in the first Ashes Test at Sophia Gardens on Friday.

England were wobbling at 22-2 in their second innings when Bell, with just 56 runs in his previous nine Test innings, came into bat. But at tea on the third day they were 149-3, a lead of 271 runs. Bell was 53 not out and first-innings century-maker Joe Root 31, with their unbroken fourth-wicket stand now worth 76.

England started the second session on 22-1, 143 runs in front, but with Australia’s quicks looking menacing. Having seen Alastair Cook fall before the break to Mitchell Starc, England lost Gary Ballance for a duck in the first over after lunch when he gloved Josh Hazlewood through to Brad Haddin. England were now 22-2, where variable bounce was making life increasingly tough for batsmen.

The 33-year-old Bell, appearing in his 111th Test, came in having struggled since making 143 against the West Indies in Antigua in April. But the experienced right-hander reeled off four fours in his first 13 balls faced on Friday including a textbook cover-drive boundary off left-arm paceman Starc. Adam Lyth, seven not out at lunch, pull-drove Starc for four and next ball guided him down to the third man rope.

Australia’s Michael Clarke brought off-spinner Nathan Lyon into the attack but Lyth responded by slog-sweeping his sixth ball Friday for six. England scored 50 runs in the first seven overs after lunch. This was an important innings for Lyth, looking to establish himself in the England set-up after making his debut in the preceding 1-1 drawn series with New Zealand.

However, he was out for 37 when, pushing forward to a Lyon delivery that bounced and turned to take his outside edge. England were now 73-3. Lyth’s exit brought in Root, who made 134 in first innings 430 after being dropped on nought by Haddin.

Bell continued to go after Lyon, scooping him just wide of a diving mid-wicket for four and next ball slog-sweeping him high over the same fielder for another boundary. Root’s opening three scoring shots all went for four. Bell then completed a 75-ball fifty in which 40 runs came in boundaries when he guided Johnson down to third man.

Earlier, England dismissed Australia for 308 to secure a first-innings lead of 122. Australia, bidding to win their first series in Britain in 14 years, lost their last five wickets for 44 runs on Friday.