Ashes 2013-14: Kevin Pietersen outstanding - Ian Bell

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Australia were outstanding - Bell

Fourth Test: Australia v England

Melbourne Cricket Ground
26-30 December
Start time:
23:30 GMT (25-29 Dec)
Ball-by-ball Test Match Special commentary on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, BBC Radio 4 Long Wave and via the BBC iPlayer Radio app, BBC Sport website & BBC Sport app; updates on BBC Radio 5 live; live text commentary on BBC Sport website, app & mobile devices

Ian Bell praised the fighting qualities of his England team-mate Kevin Pietersen and backed him to steer the tourists to a competitive score in the fourth Ashes Test against Australia.

Pietersen lacked his usual fluency as he battled to 67 not out in England's 226-6 on day one in Melbourne.

But Bell said: "It's a great sign to see him scrap it out.

"If you want one guy to go out there to try to get us up to a competitive total, it would be KP."

Pietersen has been criticised for getting out to ambitious shots in the series as England lost the first three Tests to surrender the Ashes.

But his 152-ball dogged innings on another difficult day for the tourists took him past Geoffrey Boycott into fourth on England's all-time Test run-scoring list and Bell preferred to highlight the Surrey right-hander's match-winning qualities.

"He is outstanding," said Bell. "He does play an aggressive game and sometimes when you get caught at long-on it doesn't look particularly great.

"But the number of games he's won in the past... there're not that many players like that in world cricket.

"He probably wasn't at his most fluent - as with a lot of us on this trip - but if he has a good couple of hours tomorrow morning things can change very quickly."

Pietersen was not the only England batsman to struggle on a day when the hosts struck just 17 fours in 89 overs after being put in to bat.

But Bell, who made 27 off 98 balls, was pleased to see England make Australia work hard for their wickets on a slow pitch.

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England lacked aggression - Harris

"It was attritional," he added. "Obviously, it was a little bit disappointing we couldn't get the scoring rate up a bit more.

"But credit to Australia again for the way they bowled as a unit on a pretty good pitch.

"It has made it hard work and they must be full of confidence. They deserve to be - they've outplayed us in all three disciplines [in the series].

"For us, it's a real scrap. But at least the guys are showing some fight."

Australia's disciplined bowling performance in front of a new world record crowd for a Test match of 91,092 gained its reward when Mitchell Johnson claimed the wickets of Ben Stokes (14) and Jonny Bairstow (10) with the second new ball.

But the pick of the bowlers was Ryan Harris, who took 2-32 from 20 overs and saw Pietersen dropped twice off his bowling.

Harris said: "We probably didn't bowl as well as we could have done early and England batted OK.

"But we pulled it back pretty well, bowled lots of dots and we would take 226-6 after putting them in.

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"To play in front of that kind of crowd was incredible. It got pretty noisy out there at times."

Meanwhile, England wicketkeeper Matt Prior has expressed his disappointment at being dropped for the fourth Test, but vowed to fight his way back into the side.

Prior was replaced by Bairstow after scoring only 107 runs runs in six innings in the series.

"Disappointed to miss this Test match but my form just hasn't been good enough," he wrote on Twitter.

"I'll be working hard as ever to make sure I'm back and performing at the level I expect of myself so I can contribute to the team effort once again.

"In the meantime I'll be doing my best to help in any small way I can, so we can go home with some success and positives from this tour.

"Thanks to all those for continued support through tough, as well as the good, times! Fingers crossed KP can go on from today and we put a good total on the board!"

Listen to Jonathan Agnew and Geoff Boycott's review of the day on the TMS podcast page

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