NZ Select XI v England XI, Dunedin, 3rd day March 1, 2008

Strauss and Bell find form for England

England XI 131 and 325 for 7 (Strauss 104, Bell 104*) drew with NZ Select XI 271 (How 65, Harmison 5-100)
Scorecard


Ian Bell joined Andrew Strauss with a century in the third day as the pair spent valuable time in the middle © Getty Images
 
Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell lifted the spirits on a chilly day in Dunedin, recording a century apiece to put a gloss on England's final preparations ahead of next week's first Test in Hamilton. By the time the weather closed in before tea to force an abandonment, Strauss had retired after more than four hours at the crease, but Bell was still there, unbeaten on 104 from 149 balls, with England comfortably placed on 325 for 7, a lead of 185.

England's performance was a far cry from their first-day capitulation, when they were bowled out for 131 in little more than a session. Batting was never easy in helpful conditions for seam bowling, against a committed attack featuring three members of the New Zealand Test squad that was announced during the lunch interval. But both batsmen displayed the sort of patience and application that has been lacking from much of England's five-day cricket in recent months.

For Strauss it was a particularly cathartic innings. It was his first century in English colours since the Headingley Test against Pakistan in August 2006, and it was notable for the patient approach that had been his watchword all throughout his prolific first two years in the Test side. He was happy to wait for his scoring opportunities, but latched onto them with 15 emphatic fours all around the wicket. The best of these was a short-arm pull through midwicket off Mark Gillespie, the shot he had mistimed for his first-innings dismissal.

Though Strauss retired soon after reaching his landmark, Bell continued in the confident vein he has been displaying all through the tour so far. His one-day series was marked by a series of flying starts but a failure to go onto the big score, but he made no mistake this time in a chanceless innings. His off-side play was especially fluent, with a launched six onto the grass bank at extra cover, and a sweetly timed square drive on one knee to bring up his hundred.

England's batsmen didn't have it all their own way. Paul Collingwood, struggling with a slight hamstring tear, lasted only four deliveries before chipping a tame catch to short leg off Jeetan Patel, while Tim Ambrose impressed briefly with five fours in a quickfire 33. But having cut and pulled Iain O'Brien off consecutive deliveries, he missed with an attempted drive off his next ball, and was bowled off the inside edge.

O'Brien, who was awarded a Test place ahead of his fellow new-ball bowler, Gillespie, then ended Matthew Hoggard's tortuous 10-ball duck, as Hoggard fenced a low catch to Ross Taylor's left at slip. Another quick couple of wickets and England might have faced the prospect of seeing off a New Zealand run-chase, but Monty Panesar held firm until the rains rolled in to call a halt to the day's proceedings.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo