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Matthew Bell: New Zealand opening batsman who achieved modest success at Test level

Matthew Bell © Getty Images
Matthew Bell © Getty Images

 

Matthew Bell, born on February 25, 1977 largely failed to deliver the goods in international cricket. However, he did essay two hundreds in his Test career. Bharath Ramaraj looks back at the highlights of his career.

When New Zealand’s opening batsman Matthew Bell with an ungainly shuffle and awkward back-lift played for his country, it didn’t seem like he could compile even a single run in the ‘V’. Yet, he could be proud of his achievement of having amassed two Test hundreds in his career.

If we look back at Bell’s career with a bird’s eye-view, he was a late bloomer in First-Class cricket, as he essayed his first century only in his third season. It led to him being called up to play for the New Zealand setup against the touring Indians by the end of 1998 season. In his very first Test match at Basin Reserve, Wellington, he was roughed by Indian speedster Javagal Srinath. He was also consistently troubled by stomach cramps during that time.

It was only during New Zealand’s tour of England in 1999 that Bell showcased his mettle with his patient-vigil in the Test match at Old Trafford. Yes, his knock of 83 came against a dispirited English attack, but it would have given him immense pleasure and satisfaction to have accrued his first fifty in Tests.

Bell had to wait for two more years to score his first Test hundred. After being thumped in the first Test of the series by Pakistan in 2001 at Auckland, New Zealand team was in doldrums. But in the final Test match at Hamilton, after cleaning up Pakistan for a paltry score in helpful conditions, openers Mark Richardson and Bell, both reached their coveted three-figure mark. The deck had flattened out considerably and the likes of Waqar Younis, Fazl-e-Akbar and Mohammad Akram bowled some wayward stuff too. However, it has to be remembered that the 181-run opening stand between Richardson and Bell proved to be the telling difference between both sides.

Unfortunately for Bell, that innings didn’t turn out to be the watershed moment of his career. As New Zealand embarked on a tour to Australia by the end of 2001, they were expected to be pummelled by the No 1 ranked side in Tests. New Zealand, surprisingly held their own against the mighty Australians. But it turned out to be a disappointing tour for  Bell.

Bell’s shortcomings in his technique were thoroughly exposed by an incisive pace attack consisting of Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie. It seemed like Bell couldn’t score a run in the ‘V’ in that series. In desperation, he even tried to slog his way out of trouble with a few ungainly agricultural shots.

Bell’s disastrous outing in Australia resulted in him being dropped from the side for the next six years. It was only by the end of 2007-08 season that Bell got a surprise recall on the back of a solid domestic season. He made the most of the opportunity by scoring his second and final century against the touring Bangladesh side at Dunedin.

However, the next series against England turned out to be the last time he donned the whites for New Zealand. His technique was ruthlessly exposed by the banana-bending swing of James Anderson in the second Test at Wellington. In fact, Anderson was all over him like a rash, before dismissing him for a duck in the first innings.  Bell did score a fine fifty in the last innings of his career at Napier, but the New Zealand selectors had seen enough of him and was shown the exit door.

Although Bell was never known for his swashbuckling batsmanship, he did play in seven One-Day Internationals (ODIs). The only time he made his mark with his prosaic skills was when he and Matthew Sinclair stitched a century partnership in Sharjah in 2001. Other than that he looked slightly out of his depth in that format. Bell’s First-Class numbers reads slightly better. He aggregated close to 10,000 runs in Plunket Shield.

By 2010, he was coming to the autumn of his professional career and Matthew Bell duly announced his retirement that season. Bell was one of those New Zealand cricketers who made most of his limited abilities. The truth of the matter is that to amass two hundreds in Test cricket is in itself a fine achievement in his resume.

(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)

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