Alastair Cook praised the character of his players and the nerve-settling batting of Ian Bell on his home ground in an eight-wicket victory in the third Test at Edgbaston that saw England take a 2-1 series lead over Australia and now gives them two opportunities to regain the Ashes.
Bell’s unbeaten 65 from 90 balls on his return to the No3 position, allied with 38 not out from the vice-captain, Joe Root, chased down 121 during a boisterous afternoon session in Birmingham after the last three Australian wickets were claimed in the morning session as Steven Finn finished with six for 79.
With a side strain suffered by attack leader Jimmy Anderson on the second dayruling him out of the fourth Test at Trent Bridge on Thursday – the 33-year-old will be assessed before the series finale at the Kia Oval – his captain, Cook, was pleased there were no further twists as Bell, who was dropped on 20 by Michael Clarke, marshalled a comfortable run chase.
“They have put in performance of high quality,” said Cook, whose side bounced back from their 405-run defeat in the second Test. “Everyone can be proud. There was a lot of negativity after losing at Lord’s, which was justified. But to play like that is down to character and good skill.”
Asked about Bell’s part in the win, having scored 118 runs in a low-scoring affair amid pressure to retain his place in the side, Cook replied: “It couldn’t be more fitting. There were nerves this morning and you did wonder if the cricketing gods had something in store for us. He’s a fine player who has had a tough run – but it happens to everyone. You have to keep backing the right horse and he’s the right horse.”
England’s selectors will meet on Saturday to form their squad for Trent Bridge. Mark Wood, who missed out here due to an ankle problem, will be joined by at least one more fast bowler. Chris Woakes, Mark Footitt and Liam Plunkett are names in the frame and, having seen Finn produce career-best figures in the second innings after a two-year absence, Cook believes Anderson’s replacement must also seize his chance.
“Jimmy’s injury gives somebody else an opportunity to stand up,” said Cook. “It’s disappointing but someone has the opportunity to do something special in the next game with the new ball and in his role.”
Anderson, who claimed six for 47 in Australia’s first innings, added: “I’m hoping to be fit for the Oval. I’ve been fortunate with injuries so you just have to take it on the chin. The medical team were happy with me and didn’t think it was too serious.” Asked about his side’s inconsistency in results – they have now become the first team to have a sequence of WLWLWLW in seven Tests – Cook replied: “I don’t mind if it goes on for nine matches, because it means we regain the Ashes.”
Australia suffered their first defeat in the third match of an Ashes series since the famous Headingley Test in 1981 and their captain, Clarke, is now banking on a similar response to the one that followed their loss in the opener at Cardiff, admitting it was “another kick up the backside”.
Asked about Anderson’s absence for Trent Bridge, Clarke compared it to the loss of Glenn McGrath for two Tests in the 2005 series. “Anderson’s record in England is particularly strong and at Nottingham is exceptional,” Clarke said.
“He will be a big loss like McGrath in 2005. Whoever comes in will do well in home conditions but it doesn’t mater what 11 is on the field. As long as we play our best I’m confident we can beat them.”