Bell leads Warwickshire fightback
Bell leads Warwickshire fightback

England Test stalwart Ian Bell appears intent on inspiring a momentous Warwickshire run-chase at Tunbridge Wells after Kent set the visitors a mammoth victory target of 519 in a shade over five sessions.

In a topsy-turvy Specsavers County Championship match between the second division’s top two sides, Bell posted his third unbeaten hundred in four red-ball innings to take Warwickshire into the final day on 229 for one, requiring a further 290 for victory.

Bell and his second-wicket partner Dominic Sibley came together after the departure of left-hander Will Rhodes soon after lunch. Rhodes, back on his stumps to a Harry Podmore off-cutter went leg before for 25 leaving Bell and Sibley to bat out the remaining 55.4 overs of the day.

Despite numerous Kent bowling changes, the visiting partners reached stumps with aplomb, rarely looking in trouble as they batted throughout the third day’s final session.

The home bowlers switched ends in trying to make best use of Keith Barker’s day-two follow-through marks, but in truth off-spinner Adam Riley and rookie seamer Ivan Tomas offered little threat, Indeed Riley, in his last two championship starts, has now sent down 55.2 wicketless overs.

Bell, prodding somewhat at his 164th ball, was slightly fortuitous to move to his 55th first-class hundred with a 15thboundary that ran through to the unguarded ropes at fine leg via a thick inside edge against the bowling of Matt Henry.

Two deliveries later, Henry dropped to his haunches in exasperation after umpire James Middlebrook turned aside the Kiwi’s strenuous leg before plea.

At the other end Sibley, who was downed in the cordon shortly before lunch, looked sound in defence and restrained in his stroke play in reaching 82 from 197 balls faced.

The pair will likely need to extend their stand into the final day if they are to beat the highest ever fourth-innings run chase in championship history set by Middlesex in beating Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge in 1925.

Warwickshire’s own best last innings chase came far more recently however, when they pursued 427 to beat Somerset at Taunton in 2013.

At the start of the day, promotion-chasing Kent batted on for a further 22 overs as seventh-wicket pairing Zak Crawley and Harry Podmore frustrated Jeetan Patel’s side for an hour in adding a further 53 runs.

Crawley, the 19-year-old former Tonbridge School opener, posted his maiden championship half-century from 87 balls and with four fours, but, with his score on 24, Podmore aimed to force a short, loose delivery from Oliver Hannon-Dalby and succeeded in edging to the keeper Tim Amrose.

Crawley, dropped at slip when on 89 by Jonathan Trott, lasted only two more balls before Hannon-Dalby finally got his man lbw for 93. Having just nicked a streaky boundary to third man, Crawley was undone by an off-cutter that thudded into his front pad.

After a lusty 20 from Matt Henry, Kent’s acting skipper Joe Denly declared at 12.25pm, leaving Warwickshire to face a mammoth, first-class record run chase of 519 for victory. By the close, Denly may have already been wishing he’d have batted on a tad longer.

Jim Troughton, Warwickshire’s first-team coach, said: “Three-quarters of the way through day one there’s no way that I’d have said we’d be still here on day four, but we’re in an intriguing situation now.

“We joked at lunch about breaking a few batting records, but I said to the guys to now tool to far ahead. What we achieved here today was very special. We kept our shape and to our plans in the field on a wicket that has got so much flatter since day one.

“We knew the new ball would be critical but Will Rhodes, Dom Sibley and ‘Belly’ reaching three-figures just before the end there all did a top job for the side. They looked pretty untroubled until the last 10 overs when the pitch looked to have started misbehaving a little.

“It sets it up beautifully for tomorrow, where we’ll look to break it down into sessions, hours and half-hours if needs be, setting ourselves small targets as we go.”

Kent rookie Zak Crawley, through disappointed to miss out on a maiden championship ton by seven runs, was happy to have made a decent contribution. He said: “I’ve been struggling to form of late and it was nice to kick on today. It was great to get a score of some note in what looks like it could be a tight game.

“I haven’t quite got the runs I’d have liked, but Kent have kept faith in me and it’s nice to repay that today with a score of some significance. Hopefully I can do this more regularly from now on.

“I’m playing better than I did last year but there are plenty of things to work on. I know my weaknesses and I’m happy to work hard putting them right and, in years to come, become the complete player I think I can be.

“Bowling wise, we need to keep patient. The pitch is giving us enough irregular bounce now and there will be quite a lot of spin. We need to keep it tight let the pitch and the new ball do the work for us.”