Bell backs Cook despite tough day
7:10am Tuesday 24th June 2014 in © Press Association 2014
Ian Bell admits England are bang on course to lose the Investec series but insists captain Alastair Cook is not to blame.
England were powerless at Headingley to stop Angelo Mathews' and Dhammika Prasad's career-best performances seemingly take the second Test away from them.
Mathews made 160 in Sri Lanka's second-innings 457, and then England stumbled to 57 for five at stumps on day four in pursuit of 350 and what might have been a highest successful run chase in their history.
Instead, Sri Lanka are set for their first series victory in this country - and their hosts for defeat at the first attempt under the new guard of returning coach Peter Moores and Cook, as England try to put last winter's Ashes whitewash behind them.
Bell acknowledges that is unlikely to happen here on Tuesday, when Sri Lanka will be strong favourites for a 1-0 victory.
"Yes, it looks like we're going to lose the Test series," he said.
"In a two-match series, you can have one bad day and lose it. If this was a five-match series, we could fight our way back in - but we can't.
"That's the reality."
Cook has no official vice-captain - but should he decide he has had enough of leading the team, Bell will be at the head of the list of candidates to replace him.
He does not believe that is on the agenda.
Asked whether he expects Cook to stay on after this short series, Bell said: "Absolutely, absolutely, no doubt."
In the immediate term, England's prospects are slim.
But Bell added: "I hope tomorrow, we've got five guys who can show what it means to wear an England shirt and come out with some pride and at least do something.
"Sri Lanka were very lucky to hang on the other day (in the first Test at Lord's).
"We could be 1-0 up sat here. But we're not - we're 0-0, and it looks like we're going to lose this Test match tomorrow."
Bell exonerates Cook, but does not dispute the fact that England were awry by bowling too short while Mathews shared stands of 92 with Mahela Jayawardene (79) and then, for the eighth wicket, 149 alongside Rangana Herath.
Liam Plunkett (four for 112) dropped a tough return catch, to reprieve Mathews on 87 in an otherwise chanceless innings - and after Prasad (four for 15) had then wrecked England's reply, Bell said: "It's absolutely gutting.
"We had an opportunity with the bat to bury them in the first innings.
"We didn't take it, and I think they showed what good teams do - when people are down, you have to keep them down.
"They came back hard at us, and what they did tonight is exactly what we've done to teams in the past.
"They've been outstanding today, but we've been really disappointing.
"We've been outplayed. They recognised today was a massive day, and they've 'won' it."
He is adamant nonetheless that credit is due to Mathews.
"He's played arguably one of the best knocks we've seen against us, certainly shepherding the tail," he said.
"I can't remember one, since I've been playing, that was better than that - towards the back end, the way he has 'played' with the bowlers.
"Hats off to him ... an incredible knock.
"But you look back with hindsight, I think if you want to stop someone like that scoring runs you get them out - don't you? You don't (just) try to stop them scoring.
"We had chances, and put them down - which you can't do with good teams. You can't give those world-class players opportunities, or they will hurt you."
England backed off Mathews, concentrating their efforts instead on tailender Herath.
"I don't think the tactics were wrong, most teams would do that in the same situation," said Bell.
"I don't think the lads [bowlers] will sit there and say they got it right.
"(But) I don't think Cookie could have done anything different."