Bell-Drummond happy to take slow road
It only took 18-year-old Daniel Bell-Drummond 14 deliveries to realise he could drive against the South Africa Test attack. He drove, not with the hesitation of someone whose foot was unsure of the relative positions of the accelerator and brake but with the confidence of an experienced hand behind the wheel. He drove straight, he drove square, he drove through the covers and when he was done driving, he pulled.
In two innings, Bell-Drummond scored 90 runs and faced almost a third of the total overs bowled by the South Africans. With Sam Northeast, who is not much older at 22, he made it look easy to deny one of the most feared bowling outfits in world cricket. For 107 minutes in the first innings and almost the same amount in the second, neither showed signs of vulnerability - but Bell-Drummond said every second was close to terrifying.
"I watched these bowlers against New Zealand [on South Africa's last tour] and they just destroyed those batsmen so I was really nervous going in," he told ESPNcricinfo. "They are really quick, especially Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn. In the first innings when there was a little bit more in the wicket, I found it really tough and testing. But the second was nice, the wicket was really flat and slow and I think I came through quite nicely."
Self-assured on the crease but bashful off it, Bell-Drummond was careful not to talk himself up too much, especially with Steyn hovering nearby. He chose his words carefully, particularly those that were about his approach to his craft. "I decided to be quite attacking because the bowlers are quite quick and there was more sense in driving than trying to pull Morkel," he said. "I like the pace coming on to the bat as well."
On overhearing that statement, Steyn could not stop himself from interrupting. "And I gave him a lot of shit out there too, especially in the first innings," he said, before patting Bell-Drummond on the arm. "But well batted, bud. I'll be gone now so you can carry on."
Bell-Drummond's expression melted. He went from a cricketer in his own right to nothing more than a star-star-struck youngster. The world's No. 1 Test bowler had paid him a massive compliment but instead of gobbling it up greedily, he savoured it and allowed it to sink in slowly.
The ability to stop himself from rushing emerged as one of Bell-Drummond's best qualities in the match, as a cricketer and as a person. He is not overly anxious about his absence from Kent's Championship XI, for example. "I've just got to carry on, keep doing what I'm doing and scoring runs and when that place comes up for grabs hopefully I will be in a position to take it," he said.
For most of the summer, he has played for the second team, where he has done well. The tour match against the South Africans was his only first-class game of the season. Kent had to ask special permission from England's Under-19 management to field him and he repaid them handsomely.
It must have been similar maturity and composure that led to Bell-Drummond being spotted by Kent as a seven-year old at Catford Wanderers CC. They immediately made him a part of their junior systems, an experience he describes as his biggest break and a great reward for his cricket-mad family.
Born to Jamaican parents, Bell-Drummond grew up with Brian Lara as his hero. "My dad brought me up playing cricket," he said. "He was quite good at it himself. He didn't play at a very high level but he definitely knows what he is talking about. And Lara was in prime then, we loved watching him on television. I've never seen him live, though."
Playing at a "very Caribbean" club allowed West Indian influences to shape Bell-Drummond's early years and he hopes those will remain as he gets older. He also credits Mark Davis, coach at Millfield School where Bell-Drummond completed his education just a few weeks ago, with teaching him more about his own style and helping him improve in areas of weakness, such as playing against spin. "I didn't face a lot of spin because I was an opening batsmen and when I was younger, I was quite small and I couldn't hit it very far. But I am improving on that," he said.
He hopes that development will be on display at next month's Under-19 World Cup in Australia, which Bell-Drummond believes England are in prime position to triumph in. "The last England team to win it was the one Robert Key was in in 1998," Bell-Drummond said, referring to his Kent captain. "He is always telling how we're not going to win it as a joke. But we've worked hard for three years, we've played a lot of the teams already and we've beaten them. Hopefully we can turn up and win the competition."
While Bell-Drummond admits his main objective is to "stick to my individual game plan to and get the team off to a good start," he also said he wants to show he is capable of shouldering responsibility. "I want to try and help some of the other batsmen and let them know what's happening out there because, as an opening batsman, I can assess what each bowler is trying to do." After the way he fronted up to the South Africans, there is evidence that he is capable of doing that, and much more.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent