Cow Corner

Ian Bell horror shot enters Hall of Shame

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Cow Corner will spare you the gruesome details, but he was awoken in the middle of the night by his dog bringing up last night's food. What he didn't know, however, as he applied the Vanish (to the carpet, not the mutt), was that it wouldn't be the unsightliest mess he witnessed that day.

No, that dubious honour belongs to Ian Ronald Bell, whose golden duck was the poorest shot Cowers can remember in the Test arena.

Facing his first ball of the innings, with England reeling at 69 for four, Bell charged left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha and tried to hit him back over the top for a boundary. The ball Ojha delivered was no masterpiece, but to a batsman fresher than the Summer Breeze scent Cowers deployed on the carpet, it spun too much and deceived him in the flight; the result was a feeble hit off the bottom of the bat which lolloped up to Sachin Tendulkar for the simplest of catches at mid off.

Little did we know when the Board of Control for Cricket in India threw their weight around and sparked a media blackout that it was not some power play in the corridors of cricketing governance. It was just a kindness to prevent Ian Bell's shot being committed to photograph.

It was heinous. A dereliction of duty for a man with more than 5,500 Test runs to his name across 80 matches. An insult to his unquestioned talent, a waste of weeks and months of preparation.

But don't take this bovine rogue's word for it. Mike Atherton described the shot as 'disgraceful' and added that he would scarcely be surprised if Bell, who is due to return home for the birth of his child ahead of the next Test, was told to enjoy his paternity leave for the series.

Nick Knight, like Bell a Warwickshire man, and a pundit who is typically the fence-sitting yin to Sir Ian Botham's angry and bemused yang, called it 'indefensible'.

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England's batting coach Graham Gooch's face, as captured in this picture, told its own story.

Bell, if he were asked about it, would probably write it off as a moment of madness, a brainfart which happened at an unfortunate time. And as those mental meltdowns go, there have been rivals in terms of howling stroke choices.

The captain of the opposition, MS Dhoni, had Cowers' previous favourite back in 2006 in Mumbai. India were on the ropes, trying to save a Test and with it a series victory. Dhoni arrived at the crease with India 77 for six, and played a similarly awful shot, holing out off the bowling of Shaun Udal to Monty Panesar in the deep only for the clumsy spinner to completely miss the ball. A let-off? Dhoni did it again in the same over and this time Panesar did cling on.

Context, is everything, however. That game in Mumbai was all but decided, and Dhoni is, for all his many talents, an inferior Test batsman to Bell. But in Ahmedabad, although the game was firmly in India's grasp, there was reasonable hope that England could yet bat their way out of trouble. As Alastair Cook and Nick Compton demonstrated in an unbroken stand of 111 when following on, batting with application and discipline could bear fruit. It was far from easy, as an awkward Kevin Pietersen had spent all the previous three-quarters of an hour proving with a series of erratic prods and charges, before missing a ball which spun and claimed his middle stump. If there was a clue that the pitch required some respect and assessment before unfurling ambitious strokes, seeing your best batsman reduced to a prodding, poking shell of himself was it. And where messages are concerned, what kind of message did Bell's shot send to the inexperienced man who went in to replace him, Samit Patel?

England's issue with spin, particularly on the subcontinent, is a mental one more than a technical one — and if you only had 10 seconds to explain that to someone, your best bet would be to play them the clip Bell's dismissal and repeatedly shout "IT'S THE FIRST BALL HE'S FACED!" at the top of your lungs. England deny having a problem with the turning ball but they struggle to find a middle ground between defending with the solemnity of a captain going down with his ship, or attacking with the long-term prospects of a kamikaze pilot.

Make no mistake — it is hard to bat out there, and the conditions are unfamiliar. There will be deliveries which are simply too good to counter. Even if England's batsmen happen across the perfect blend of aggression and patience, they will still struggle to match their hosts for runs in India.

As Cowers touched on yesterday, England claimed to have learned lessons about batting on the subcontinent. Comparing the first completed innings abroad this year to the last, it doesn't look like it.

Then, in Dubai against Pakistan, England subsided to 94 for seven, before some lower order resistance with Matt Prior top-scoring propped the score up to 192 from 72.3 overs.

Today, England subsided to 97 for seven, before some lower order resistance with Matt Prior top-scoring propped the score up to 191 from 74.2 overs.

Lessons learned, Cowers is sure you'll agree.

Mind you, they do have one thing in common: Ian Bell got a first-ball duck in both innings.

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