Ian Bell is a satisfied man at the moment, having rescued his England career from the brink of ruin against South Africa. His 213-ball 78 at Newlands, which he puts above his hundred in Durban for its significance, enabled England to secure a memorable draw and keep their series lead intact heading into the final Test in Johannesburg.

Bell was only a marginal selection for the first Test in Centurion, ahead of Luke Wright and Ryan Sidebottom as England went with a batting-heavy line-up, and when he bagged scores of 5 and 2 his career was in danger of slipping away. Despite making a vital 72 in the first innings of the deciding Ashes Test at The Oval it appeared he would never fulfill the potential that had been so evident since his Under-19 days.

However, the management stuck by him and he responded with 140 at Kingsmead which helped set up an innings victory, but in terms of silencing the doubters, who believed he only succeeded when the going was easier, his match-saving effort in Cape Town was far more significant. Bell was quick to acknowledge the support he received after his failures in Centurion, but admitted any more low scores could have spelt the end.

"Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower have been amazing to me, they have backed me all the way," he said. "I spoke with all of them before the Durban Test and they were very vocal that they wanted me in the team so I felt no pressure from them at all. But deep down I knew I hadn't scored the runs I needed to in Pretoria and Durban was a massive Test match for me and it was nice to come away with a hundred, but this one is just as satisfying if not more really."

Bell's nine Test centuries have all come after somebody else has also registered three-figures, but without his near five-hour occupation at Newlands the series would be all-square heading into Johannesburg with South Africa holding the momentum.

"I guess I've done what a lot of people wanted me to do but for me, as I've always said, I want to keep improving," Bell said. "I believe I can play at this level and I want to do it for a long time.

"In the last 12 months physically I've tried to step that up to the level I think it needs to be at international level. I just want to keep improving at every aspect and hope I can put in more performances that can help the team win or save Tests."

While Bell's new-found steely qualities were central to England's escape they can't have many more last-ditch heroics left up their sleeve. Graham Onions has already done more than should be expected of a No. 11 by saving England's skin twice in three Tests, but Bell believes it can only bode well for the team that they were battling every inch of the way.

"We need to improve and make sure we put a better performance in Johannesburg, but it's good to be able to pull through when not playing at your best."

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo