Bell frustrated by performances
England gave a glimpse of their capabilities at last to extend their fading Ashes hopes by a few hours, leaving Ian Bell all the more frustrated at what will almost certainly prove too little too late.
There was a sense of merely delaying the inevitable, albeit in style, as Ben Stokes and Bell took the attack back to Australia with defiant half-centuries on the fourth evening of the third Test at the WACA.
Set a world-record 504 to win - or alternatively to bat more than five sessions to salvage a stalemate - after Shane Watson's brutal 103 had taken the hosts to 369 for six declared, England reached stumps on 251 for five
The statistical resonance - they were bowled out for the exact same score in their first innings - highlighted one of the failings which has seen Alastair Cook's team concede a 2-0 lead already, and apparently put themselves on course for another defeat here.
Should that be confirmed on the final day, the Ashes will be lost before Christmas, and England will be playing for pride alone in Melbourne and Sydney.
"We're hugely disappointed," said Bell, who made a classy 60 alongside Stokes (72no) before edging Peter Siddle behind.
England arrived down under with a fourth successive Ashes series triumph in their sights.
"Coming out here, we had some real excitement," Bell said.
"There was a massive challenge ahead, and that's what you play the game for.
"But I don't think we've shown anybody the kind of cricket we can potentially play.
"Hats off to Australia - they've batted better than us, caught better than us and bowled better than us."
It was heartening but also frustrating for England's supporters to see Bell and Stokes, with his maiden Test half-century in his second match, show the tourists could previously have done so much better.
"We showed some fight with the bat when we went out there," added Bell.
"It would have been easy to get knocked over and walk off.
"But the guys are desperate to scrap it out."
Stokes, only 22, gives England hope - in the long term, at least.
"The potential for the future looks massive with Ben," said Bell.
"His character with the ball as well - running in like he did all day and yesterday - is a good sign for us.
"He's a really good find.
"I think he's got a fantastic future ahead of him - the way he's shown he can play quick bowling, the way he hits down the ground, and just that attitude with the ball."
Stokes and Bell joined forces at 121 for four, after Kevin Pietersen had been caught at long on trying to reach his 50 with a six.
Bell said: "Kevin will be as frustrated as anyone.
"But I'd rather have him in my team than play against him.
"Okay, he might do that every so often - but win you a game from nowhere as well.
"He does things that a lot of other players can't."
Watson balances the Pietersen equation in similar terms.
"He always takes on the game ... that's the way he plays," Watson said.
"This series hasn't fallen his way exactly ... he lives and dies by the sword at certain times.
"At the moment, it hasn't really come off for him.
"It's just not his time exactly at the moment, and it's coming our way."
Watson had licence to attack with impunity before lunch, and duly did so - before George Bailey weighed in even more forcefully by smashing James Anderson's final over for a joint world-record 28 runs.
For Watson, so often an Anderson victim in past series, it was a rewarding experience to be able to dominate an England attack minus the injured Stuart Broad in the second innings here.
"A lot of us have played all these guys a lot over the last couple of series, and we're starting to get closer to knowing how not to allow them into the game.
"We've had quite a few bad experiences against Jimmy Anderson - I've certainly been a part of that ... so to see that, it's always nice to see the shoe on the other foot.
"We've been at their mercy at times, so it certainly provided a bit of enjoyment for us."
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