Ian Bell: England's pretty boy hampered by familiar failings

With a veiled hint of impatience the other day England's coach, Andy Flower, warned that pretty nets were not enough. He was referring specifically to one of the richest talents in his side, Ian Bell, than whom nobody in the world does prettier nets.

The trouble is that this has not always translated into pretty innings. Or if they have been pretty they have not always been substantial. So it was, sadly, again yesterday on the second day of the third Test.

Bell did a whole heap of pretty things. The cover drive with which he got off the mark was matched by a second a few minutes later. But he was not all showy, he was prepared, it seemed, to tough it out. This was Bell's big chance to persuade his critics that they have misjudged him: he has never scored England's only hundred in an innings, indeed he has never scored the first.

When Alastair Cook was out yesterday, the centre of the stage was Bell's. He executed a late cut of great beauty, one of three sumptuously-timed fours in an over from Dale Steyn. This then was finally the day, following that indubitably helpful hundred in Durban last week, when Bell would break through. He did not, of course, he biffed a half tracker down point's throat. Same old story, same old Bell.

There were mitigating circumstances as his colleague, Cook who was also dismissed tamely, surmised. "The nature of some of the dismissal was disappointing but they didn't let us off the hook all day," said Cook. "They kept us under constant pressure, keeping the run rate down and when you're not scoring then it builds. It's a very fair wicket. If you do bowl badly you do go but there's a little bit of uneven bounce and nibble to keep the bowlers interested."

It was more South Africa's day than England's after their poor start when the last four first-innings wickets went down in the first 17 balls of the morning. Jacques Kallis, whose 33rd Test century was brought to a close to his first ball of the day, said: "If you keep the opposition under pressure struggling to score, sometimes when the bad balls do come you try and hit them too hard or it's not as bad as you think."

For all the batsmen's errors it is a true Test pitch. The batsmen have to work hard but the bowlers know that virtue will bring its reward. There was a hint of movement throughout. Kallis, who has played here all his professional life – this is his 17th Test match at Newlands – was surprised.

"It's a different wicket from what Newlands usually is. It's perhaps a bit a more even than what we've been used to in the past and has perhaps done a little more. It certainly makes for exciting cricket. I think it will be tough to chase down 300 on that wicket. That's our aim but it will be difficult to get there." It will require significantly more than a pretty net.