Bell sees fruit of Bairstow's labour
Jonny Bairstow’s maiden Test fifty was just reward for his work away from the five-day arena, according to the man who witnessed much of the youngster's innings from close quarters.
Ian Bell watched on as the 22-year-old, who has hit hundreds for Yorkshire and England Lions in the last month, extended his fine form with an unbeaten 72 today.
Bairstow and Bell added 124 to launch a recovery from 54 for four as England replied to South Africa’s 309 with 208 for five in a must-win match for the hosts if they are to share the series and remain top of the International Cricket Council rankings.
Although Bell fell to Vernon Philander for 58, Bairstow continued to excel as the dangerous touring attack tired in strong afternoon sun.
“He’s come in in really good nick from the Lions game, which was great for him,” Bell said.
“He’s played against Mitchell Johnson in a tough Australian side, which has given him great confidence coming into this.”
Bairstow lost his place in the Test team after the Investec series with West Indies, at the beginning of which came his debut.
During that rubber, the Yorkshire batsman at times struggled against short bowling - something he faced again today from Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
Bell added: “He certainly showed some great character, having been left out of the team and (having) had to go away and work on a few areas.
"He was tested with them straightaway - which you expect in Test cricket - and I thought he handled himself brilliantly.
"He'd obviously worked really hard on a method back at Yorkshire, and got through that test. Tomorrow, he's got to start again and do it again for us.
"But I thought he was fantastic and, as the innings went on, we started to see some shots that you hear about in county cricket.
"He hit the ball really hard, certainly against the spinner, and looked a quality player. For us now, he needs to kick on with Matty Prior and get us into a good position."
Like Bairstow, Bell took on extra responsibility by moving up a place in the batting order to number four, in the absence of Kevin Pietersen.
"I enjoyed it. I've always said I want to move up the order, keep testing myself if I can and get the opportunity,” Bell said.
"It was nice to get the chance at number four. It would have been nice to kick on and be there, but I really enjoyed the responsibility of getting up the order more.”
Bell naturally hopes England can take a significant first-innings lead and is looking forward to watching Bairstow, Prior and the attacking lower-order batsmen to come.
"We need to get up to their score first,” Bell added. “Obviously, the two guys who are in have a massive part to play.
“I think it's going to be an action-packed morning, the way Prior plays, Bairstow, (Graeme) Swann, (Stuart) Broad ... there's not going to be too many block-shots around.”
Bairstow was not the only player to register a first Test half-century today. Philander did likewise in making South Africa’s joint top score of 61.
Like the position England were in, Philander’s knock aided a recovery from 54 for four.
“Personally it was satisfying. To bail the team out and get some runs on the board and put the team in a good situation, it was a good outcome for me,” he said.
Philander was by far the Proteas’ most economical bowler, going at less than two runs an over in returning 1-30. His wicket followed two apiece from Steyn and Morkel, who threatened throughout.
“The wicket’s good to bat on and I think the way the guys bowled today was just phenomenal, considering Bairstow and Belly got in and played well,” Philander added.