Cricket: Gritty century from Bell

Ian Bell is often the forgotten man in a powerful England top five. But the gritty right-hander announced he will be a force during the test series with an undefeated century against the New Zealand XI yesterday.

Bell's innings of 127 helped England reach 357 for seven at stumps on the opening day of the four-day match at the Queenstown Events Centre.

He brought up the milestone with a sparkling cover drive late in the day and celebrated with a flurry of boundaries.

But for most of his innings he was content to occupy the crease and wait for scoring opportunities.

Not all of England's top order could say the same. The tourists had slumped to 81 for three, thanks in part to some fine bowling by Otago all-rounder Jimmy Neesham and some poor shot selection.

Kevin Pietersen, in particular, played a strange innings and was out slashing at a delivery. Hamish Rutherford took a fine catch in the slips to remove the danger-man.

Alastair Cook did his part with 60 at the top but Bell and Joe Root helped rebuild the innings with a partnership of 97 for the fifth wicket.

Bell felt his side had done well to get to 357.

''The first session was always going to be hard work and to be 350 - we're quite happy with that,'' he said.

''It [the ball] just did enough all day, to be honest, and they went through periods where they bowled really good spells and you had to really cash in when there was a loose ball.

''I'm hoping, with our attack, we can really ask some questions. There is quite a lot of grass on that wicket so there should be a bit of seam movement all the way through the game.''

With Neil Wagner and Mark Gillespie competing for a spot in the Black Caps test squad there was plenty of interest in the opening overs.

Wagner had Cook flashing an edge over gully early in his innings and Gillespie caught both openers in two minds at times. But neither was able to secure a breakthrough, with Cook and Nick Compton adding 45 for the first wicket.

Neesham was the most impressive of the New Zealand XI bowlers in the morning session.

He nicked out Compton with his fourth ball and repeated the dose to Jonathan Trott before the former Otago player could get set at the crease.

Moments later Neesham had a confident lbw appeal against Pietersen turned down, but his disappointment did not linger too long with Pietersen caught brilliantly in the slips for 14.

The 22-year-old right-armer took three for 30 in his opening seven overs and finished with four for 65 from 17 overs.

Fourth seamer Corey Anderson bowled tightly though without success, but pulled up lame with a side strain and will not bowl again in the match.

At lunch, England was 98 for three with Cook undefeated on 50 and Bell on eight.

Cook survived a chance shortly after the resumption of play. Gillespie found the edge of his bat and the ball flew to Neil Broom in the slips. But it burst through Broom's hands and ballooned off his head. A team-mate tried desperately to reel the catch in but it remained just out of reach.

Wagner had more luck when Cook tried to force a delivery through point and feathered an edge to the keeper.

With Cook gone, Bell took it upon himself to ensure the remainder of the session was uneventful.

His batting partner, Root, certainly has a touch of class. He played with comfort from the back foot, punching the ball through the covers for a steady stream of runs and gapped the ball extremely well.

The scoring lifted in the final 30min before tea and England turned a sedate session into a reasonably productive one, reaching 195 for four.

Root, in the end, missed a straight delivery from Carl Cachopa and was bowled for 49. Gloveman Matt Prior took advantage of a tiring attack and flayed 41 from 43 deliveries.