ENGLAND cricket coach Andy Flower has defended Ian Bell in the face of mounting calls for the Warwickshire man to be replaced by seamer Ryan Sidebottom or all-rounder Luke Wright for the Boxing Day Test in steamy Durban on Saturday.
Bob Willis has described Bell as "the new Mark Ramprakash" and said his Test future is in danger. The former England paceman, now a Sky analyst, wants England to include Sidebottom in a five-bowler selection for the second Test arguing "we will need an extra bowler in Durban, where it will be extremely humid at this time or year".
But Cape Town-born Flower, the 41-year-old Zimbabwean, insisted at England's plush hotel in Umhlanga today: "He's a high quality player, and we're backing him. I think he'll be fine. Belly got some runs in the pre-tour games, and I think he's feeling quite confident about the way he's playing."
Recalling Bell's 72 against Australia in the final Ashes-clinching Test last summer, Flower said: "He's just had a tough Test match.He made a misjudgment in the first innings and then got 'nicked off' in the second."
Flower admitted to chronic relief after Graham Onions and Paul Collingwood stood resolute as South Africa desperately sought the final wicket. He said: "Of course, we're relieved - after losing those seven wickets to the last new ball - to get out of it with a draw. But it was a superb Test match and a great advert for the game.
"We always knew that second new ball was going to be a very tough period.
"We obviously didn't think we'd lose that many wickets that quickly - but we did well to fight back and hang on in the end."