James Vince and Mark Stoneman are in charge of their own destiny as Test cricketers, according to Graham Thorpe.
The England batting coach acknowledges several places in the current Test line-up cannot yet be guaranteed long term.
But he complimented the second-wicket pair on their century stand after Vince (76) and Stoneman (60) responded to the early loss of out-of-form Alastair Cook by putting on 123 together as England closed day three of the second Test against New Zealand with a lead of 231 on 202 for three.
Neither player could go on to a maiden hundred – but after Stuart Broad (six for 54) led the way as the Kiwis were bowled out for 278 at Hagley Park, the twin half-centuries enhanced England’s prospects of squaring the series with a first Test win of a tough winter.
It also ensured opener Stoneman and number three Vince should retain their positions for the start of the summer to come.
Thorpe said: “They’re in charge of their destiny every time they walk to the crease with an England shirt on.
“They’re in a position to keep pushing on. Ultimately it’s up to them to be able to take that next step for themselves and go beyond their career-best scores and into three-figures.
“I’m sure both of them would have loved to have got hundreds, and gone on for their own confidence.
“But they’ll still get a good pat off us in the dressing-room, because it’s easy to shrink sometimes at this level, so it’s important they both stood up.”
Vince, who was far from a certain selection for this match, has often flattered to deceive in his short Test career to date by following a series of flowing boundaries with an edge behind or to the slips.
“There are areas of the Test side where you’re not going to say everyone is guaranteed their places, we’re constantly trying to get more out of players who are in the XI,” added Thorpe.
“The more you learn, you get over those hurdles and start to feel very settled. We’re hoping a few of them are close to that.
“They are still developing within their Test careers, but I was pleased with the way they went out and got themselves into good positions, and didn’t back off.”
At the other end of England’s range of experience, 33-year-old record runscorer Cook has endured the worst series of his career after the latest of his four successive cheap dismissals to Trent Boult.
But Thorpe said: “A guy who’s scored that amount of runs, and has done it in a way he knows, it’s hard for us to question whether his technique is right or wrong.
“He’s had some aggressive nets to try to shake things up a little bit. You can clearly see the hunger is there.
“He’s disappointed through this series, but around the group he’s still chipper, and that’s very important that you try to remain upbeat.”
Wicketkeeper BJ Watling top-scored for the hosts with 85, only to see England take charge.
He said: “Vince and Stoneman had a really good partnership, and we couldn’t quite break through there.
“But I think tomorrow morning is a massive session in the game.
“If we can take four or five wickets we can put them under some pressure, (but) obviously, if they get through it, they’re in control of the game.”