Bell hits ton in England warm-up
Ian Bell smashed a century as England got their preparations for the Test series against New Zealand off to an impressive start in Queenstown.
The tourists made their intention clear to persevere with Nick Compton as Alastair Cook's Test opening partner, by deploying him rather than Joe Root in that position against a New Zealand XI at the Queenstown Events Centre ground, but it was Bell (127no) who underpinned a total of 357 for seven.
Cook (60), Matt Prior and Root - in the number six spot, where he made a half-century on Test debut in December - also all made significant contributions.
Bell had made a point on Tuesday of stressing the importance of this match as England seek to add victory in a three-match series, starting in Dunedin next week, to their one-day international and Twenty20 triumphs here already.
Today, it was his bat doing the talking with a chanceless 182-ball century which provided the permanence otherwise lacking, after England were put in on a pitch of decent pace but with a little help available to the seamers too.
Compton (21) came through 12 testing overs against the new ball but got no further before becoming the first of four wickets for first-change Jimmy Neesham - departing five runs short of a sixth 50 stand in 10 attempts with Cook since they began their partnership in India three-and-a-half months ago.
After a slow start, Compton soon appeared to be growing in confidence, in gloriously sunny conditions at this breath-taking location in the lee of a row of mountain peaks known as The Remarkables.
There was nothing quite so eye-catching in the early strokeplay, and Compton had to wait until the 10th over for his first four - a trademark extra-cover drive off left-arm seamer Neil Wagner.
He added three more runs with the same stroke off Mark Gillespie, and then greeted Neesham with another repeat - this time again for four.
Sadly, that was as good as it got - because two balls later, Compton was undone by a little extra bounce and gloved behind.
He had neither rubber-stamped his status nor let them down, having got a start but failed to consolidate.
Jonathan Trott could manage just a single, England's only single-figure departure of the day in a stand of 20 with Cook, before becoming Neesham's second caught-behind victim as he looked to drive.
Then Neesham added a prized third wicket, Kevin Pietersen aiming to cut and brilliantly caught at first slip by Hamish Rutherford high above his head.
Cook completed his half-century in 69 balls, having hit 10 fours, just before lunch but got little further.
He was dropped on 56 by Neil Broom off Gillespie, the second slip unable to close his hands before an edge hit him flush on the forehead and left him with mild concussion.
Broom had to go off, but was expected to recover in time to bat, and Cook soon followed him when he edged behind off Wagner.
The captain's was the only wicket lost in an afternoon session which saw Root take another chance to impress, batting against the old ball much as he might be required to do at the top of the order.
He took 27 balls over his first four runs, before his patience paid off with two fours in the same over from Neesham - a pull past midwicket and a clip off his legs in the same direction.
By tea, Root had almost caught Bell up - but after his partner then passed 50, the young Yorkshireman fell one run short when he played up the wrong line and lost his off-stump to part-time medium-pacer Carl Cachopa.
Bell made no mistake, either in that stand of 97 for the fifth wicket or one of 60 with Matt Prior in just 12 overs for the sixth.
Prior dominated, as he so often does, until he cut Neesham to point for 41. But Bell survived to complete his century against the second new ball, driving Gillespie for his 13th four past cover.