• NZ XI v Eng XI, Tour match, Queenstown, 1st day

Bell sizzles in England warm up

Andrew McGlashan in Queenstown
February 27, 2013 « Nadal powers through in Mexico | Chartbeat test »
England XI 357 for 7 (Bell 127*, Cook 60, Neesham 4-65) v New Zealand XI
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Ian Bell put himself in pole for a place in the Test side with a ton © Getty Images
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England's top order was not entirely convincing on the opening day of their warm-up match against a New Zealand XI in Queenstown, but Ian Bell's hundred ensured they posted a reasonably healthy 357 for 7 while Jimmy Neesham was the most successful of the bowlers, taking 4 for 65.

Bell played neatly during the one-day series but before this match spoke of the importance of shifting tempos between the formats. He did as he said, playing out periods where the bowling was tight and picking off the loose deliveries. Although the bowling was inconsistent at times, these were not freebie runs.

His hundred, his second in consecutive first-class innings dating back to the Nagpur Test, came in the final half an hour of the day when he cover-drove his 13th boundary, to bring hearty applause from a small group of England supporters on the grass banks. He then expressed himself with a string of crisp fours. After his problems early on the India tour, with the distraction of waiting for the birth of his child, he now looks a batsman at ease again.

The five frontline bowlers in the opposition have all played for New Zealand at international level and the seam bowling in particular kept England on their toes. Nick Compton and Kevin Pietersen, two of the players who have joined for the Test leg, fell in the morning session during which there was movement for the pacemen on a well-grassed surface.

It may well be a sign of things to come. Like in England there can often be some early help, but as the ball grew softer and the day warmer, batting became easier. At times the main issue for the batsmen was a plane landing at the neighbouring airport. The opportunities for that perfect picture were plentiful.

By opening with Compton, England confirmed that there will not be any changes to the top seven on duty for the Test series. They also rested James Anderson and Steven Finn, leaving Stuart Broad and Graham Onions to compete for the final spot in the bowling line-up. That will be the interest for day two.

Compton's 21 continued the trend from India where early hard work was not built into a more substantial innings. Although on this occasion, he received a decent delivery from Neesham, a nippy medium-pacer, which bounced from a length.

Jonathan Trott played a loose drive to be caught behind and Neesham's productive morning continued when he had Pietersen athletically caught by Hamish Rutherford, who grasped a sharp chance above his head. It had been a skittish innings from Pietersen, who did not middle much during his 36-ball stay, but he does not put much stock behind warm-up innings.

Alastair Cook fought through the tricky first session, picking off loose deliveries with trademark authority, but after lunch was given a life on 56 when Neil Broom spilled a chance at second slip when the ball burst through his hands, struck his forehead and left him with mild concussion and sizable lump. However, Cook could not build on the let-off and edged a cut against Neil Wagner.

Progress slowed as Bell and Joe Root took a cautious approach. Root had 4 off 27 balls before lifting the tempo, showing once again that he can shift comfortably between the formats. By tea he had almost caught up with Bell. The partnership was 97 when Root played inside the line against Carl Cachopa, who has a reputation for a golden-arm in domestic cricket, and lost his off stump.

Matt Prior was bustling from the moment he arrived, getting his first boundary with a sweet clip through midwicket, and scored at a run-a-ball during his stay. It was the most fluent batting by the new arrivals and the type of innings he so frequently produces until he lent back on a cut shot and picked out point to hand Neesham his fourth.

From New Zealand's perspective, this match was meant to be between two bowlers - Wagner and Mark Gillespie - with a spot in the Test squad up for grabs, but both were outshone by Neesham, although he is unlikely to be in Test consideration. Wagner, though, picked up his second wicket when Chris Woakes got a leading edge to mid-on as Gillespie remained wicketless and expensive, although he was convinced he had Bell caught behind late in the day.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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