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 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 wicketkeeper 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 4-65.
He shared stands of 97 with Root and then 60 in barely 12 overs with Prior on the way to a stumps total of 357-7.
Bell made it clear afterwards, too, that batting was tough at times on a day which provided England with a valuable opportunity to atune to the challenges that lie 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. There’s enough grass on there, a lot left on that pitch, so I think the new ball will be key.”
England’s No 5 had every right to be pleased with his own performance, but also made a point of congratulating Yorkshire’s Root on another promising innings.
“It went really nicely for me (yesterday) 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 England’s No 6, who was bowled by part-time medium-pacer Carl Cachopa for 49.