sport

Series safe for excellent England

Centurion Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell shut out India in Nagpur to make England certain of a famous Test series victory.

Trott (143) and Bell (87 not out) took their stand to 208 as England reached a teatime 310 for four, and lead of 314, and India's hopes of a last-ditch chase to salvage a 2-2 scoreline receded to nil.

It is almost 28 years since England won a Test series here, under David Gower and when current captain Alastair Cook was a babe in arms only weeks old.

Cook has been one of the foundations of their success so far, with centuries in his first three Tests after replacing Andrew Strauss as permanent captain.

Today, it was time for Trott and Bell to ensure an achievement which will be all the more notable after England's crushing nine-wicket defeat in the first Test in Ahmedabad.

There was much reason for personal satisfaction too - in Trott's second hundred of 2012 while Bell was close to his first since making 235 against these same opponents at The Oval in 2010, and in a country where he had previously passed 50 just once in three tours.

Cook, Kevin Pietersen and spinners Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann had begun England's comeback in Mumbai; then the captain was at it again in Kolkata last week, when Steven Finn and in particular James Anderson's mastery of reverse-swing completed England's skill-set.

It was appropriate that Trott and Bell should be involved in the home straight, though, after their relative troubles in a year which has seen England lose seven of 15 Tests as well as their position at the top of the International Cricket Council rankings.

After Trott's ducks in Ahmedabad and Mumbai, he contributed significantly at Eden Gardens and here - completing the process with a typically cussed near five-hour hundred and also passing 1,000 runs after all in the past 12 months.

England's number three reached three figures with a trademark boundary wide of mid-on off leg-spinner Piyush Chawla, and celebrated with feeling.

All around him India, minus veteran master batsman Sachin Tendulkar who was off the field with a sore neck, wore glum faces resigned to a first home series defeat in eight years.

Bell did nothing to lighten their mood either, bringing up the 200 stand for the fourth wicket by hitting Ravindra Jadeja for six over long-off and nearing a century himself - having had just one escape on 75 when a fierce cut at Chawla was edged and put down by Virender Sehwag at slip.

Trott finally fell soon afterwards, caught at leg-slip off Ravichandran Ashwin to the 310th ball he faced.

He and Bell had joined forces at a wobbly 94 for three when Pietersen was bowled shouldering arms at Jadeja last night, and Trott's only alarm today came on 106 when he missed a Chawla top-spinner but survived the lbw appeal.

England arrived here needing only a draw, but Cook was at pains beforehand to spell out the danger of settling for limited ambition with stakes so high.

In the event, conditions dictated that a stalemate would have to do on a mesmerisingly slow pitch which precluded a scoring rate much in excess of two an over.

Despite its crazy-paving cracks from the outset, the VCA Stadium surface never deteriorated either.

Unwatered and unrolled for almost three weeks before the match, the intention seemed to be to provide a 'result' pitch in the hope India's four spinners could outbowl England's two.

If those were the expectations, it was soon abundantly clear the hosts were barking up the wrong tree.

Solitary seamer Ishant Sharma was by far the pick of their attack in the first innings, when low bounce from his high trajectory posed the biggest threat to England.

But after the tourists recovered from 16 for two to top 300, it was hard to see India getting far enough in front quickly enough to apply the pressure.

So it proved as, even after a near double-century fifth-wicket stand between Virat Kohli and captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, they ended up declaring with a marginal deficit.

England knew then they merely needed to bat for at least the next three-and-a-half sessions to be confident of closing out the draw and claiming their prize of series victory.

Thanks to Trott and Bell's redoubled efforts today, the job was as good as done.