Bell impresses again for England
Ian Bell's second successive hundred in red-ball cricket put England on a sound footing for their forthcoming Test series against New Zealand.
Bell (127no) was on Wednesday following up the unbeaten century in Nagpur which helped England close out their historic series victory over India before Christmas.
Batting was far from straightforward for the tourists, on day one of four against a New Zealand XI after they were put in on a surface offering plenty of help to the new-ball bowlers at the Queenstown Events Centre ground.
After Alastair Cook (60) and Nick Compton negotiated the first hour, England overcame the loss of three wickets for 36 runs as Bell, Joe Root and Matt Prior all made significant contributions.
Bell's chanceless 196-ball innings was the key, to give his team the advantage despite Jimmy Neesham's four for 65.
He shared stands of 97 with Root and then 60 in barely 12 overs with Prior on the way to a stumps total of 357 for seven.
He made it clear afterwards too that batting was tough at times on a day which provided England with a valuable opportunity to attune to the challenges ahead once the first Test of three starts in Dunedin next week.
"I think it was difficult," he said, praising Cook and Compton in particular for their efforts.
"I thought we played very well. The two guys up front had the tough time in that first hour - and we got through that.
"Then you want to cash in when it comes to the last session, which we managed to do.
"Some of the one-day wickets we've played on here have been absolutely flat.
"So to play on a wicket a little bit more in the bowlers' favour was a good test - and it was nice to come through that."
Seam and swing movement, especially with the new ball, suggested England had a useful score on the board already.
"There's enough grass on there, a lot left on that pitch, so I think the new ball will be key," added Bell.
"There was just enough seam movement all day, and I hope it will be the same throughout the game."
England's number five had every right to be pleased with his own performance, but also made a point of congratulating Root on another promising innings.
"It went really nicely for me today, and I think we're in quite a good position on this wicket," he said.
"Joe played nicely, in a situation where we probably needed to get a partnership together - and we did exactly that.
"It's good for us, me batting at five and him at six, the more we bat together and get familiar with each other's games - strengths and weaknesses - the better.
"It's a nice little spot for him there, certainly with Matty Prior just in behind him.
"He played very coolly and calmly."
Neesham, an age-group contemporary of Root's, was also impressed by the young Yorkshireman - who missed out on his 50 by just one run, clean-bowled by part-time medium-pacer Carl Cachopa.
"I played against him at the Under-19s World Cup," he said.
"He was a good player then, and looks like he's made a few more steps forward as well.
"He looked very solid out there, and obviously played very well in the one-day series as well.
"He does look a good player."
The uncapped Neesham, who may yet find himself up against England next week as the as yet unnamed seamer the hosts intend to promote to their full squad after this match, has great respect for the tourists - and appears a little fearful for his own country.
"I think they're a very good team," he said.
"I think the Kiwis have probably got a bit to prove after the South Africa series.
"I think we're going through a bit of a rebuilding phase at the moment, having lost a few senior players."
For Bell, as well as the moving ball, the comings and goings at the airport next door were an added distraction but one he mastered happily in such picturesque surroundings.
"When I was in with Broady there, we were talking about the helicopters just floating over and keeping an eye on them rather than watching the ball," he said.
"But it's a great place to play cricket."