sport

Bell: No easy Test ride in NZ

Ian Bell knows from personal experience that Test series victories in New Zealand must be earned the hard way.

The general assumption is that a resurgent England - after their historic Test success in India, their improved one-day international series performance there and wins in both limited-overs formats here - should brush aside New Zealand and take an early confidence boost for their year of back-to-back Ashes to come.

Bell, naturally, is hoping that optimism proves well-placed.

He knows too, though, that New Zealand are stubborn and able opponents on home ground.

His first taste of the international environment, as a teenager back in 2002, was as injury cover on a tour which saw England lose their 1-0 lead in the final Test in Auckland and have to settle for a drawn series.

Six years later, Bell's unbeaten second-innings half-century could not save England in the first Test in Hamilton where they were bowled out for just 110.

He completed the fightback, however, alongside captain Andrew Strauss with a second-innings century in the third match in Napier where England won by 121 runs to prevail 2-1 in the end.

As Alastair Cook's tourists practised on Tuesday before their only warm-up match, a four-day fixture against a New Zealand XI starting in Queenstown on Wednesday, Bell made it clear it is no foregone conclusion that England will simply sweep their hosts aside.

"We've still got to earn it," he said.

"It's hard to win a Test match; you can't just pitch up and win.

"On the last tour I came here, we lost in Hamilton - and didn't do our basics right (there).

"We have to do that this tour. We know there's some real quality in that New Zealand team, and we have to keep a lot of pressure on them from the first ball."

England are on a mission too to re-establish their credentials as an outstanding Test team after chastening series defeats last year against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates and then at home to South Africa.

They lost their number one status to South Africa, who have appeared ever more worthy table-toppers in their own subsequent series wins - including against New Zealand last month.

"We're always striving for more, as a team and individually," added Bell.

"We had a taste of getting to number one, which we all enjoyed, but then probably didn't play our best cricket after that.

"We're desperate to put that right.

"This is another opportunity to keep getting better. There's a lot to play for, and if we can start doing the basics right here it's a good platform for us."

The temptation is to cast the mind forward already to that schedule of Ashes home and away between July and January.

Bell for one will not be doing that yet, but does acknowledge three Tests here are seen by many as a stepping stone to future challenges.

"I don't see there's any benefit to look too far ahead.

"We've got to focus on what we do right to try to win this series.

"We want to take some momentum into the summer as well. It's a really exciting one for all of us - an ICC (Champions) Trophy at home, and an Ashes.

"You couldn't get any better than that.

"But we want to deal with this series before we look too far ahead."

England's hopes here, next summer and beyond are founded on a largely settled line-up.

The opening position alongside Cook, however, is one which is still up for grabs between Nick Compton and Joe Root.

Compton served England well in India, where Root also impressed on debut at number six in the final Test and has since done likewise in a string of one-day international innings - also in the middle order.

There will be a strong indication as to who is favoured when England name their team, and then the batting order, tomorrow.

But whoever gets the nod, Bell stresses the importance of emerging players to help provide strength in depth.

"With World Cups and ICC trophies, we need a squad - 11 people can't do it for you on their own.

"So it's great to see more coming through and challenging for places."

Bell, meanwhile, is thankful for another team of his own - who will be on hand once the Test series starts in Dunedin next week.

He missed the second match of four in India, in Mumbai in November, to fly home for the birth of his first child.

After then spending his first Christmas as a father, he is delighted he will soon be reunited with his wife and baby son here. "I (always) knew they were going to come out for all three Test matches.

"But this is what we do; you get used to [being away] from such an early age.

"I wouldn't change what I do as a job at all.

"Obviously it's hard to go away. But you have to have a supportive family - which I'm very lucky to have."