IMPERIOUS Ian Bell struck his third century of this summer’s Ashes as England wrested back the initiative in the fourth Investec Test against Australia at Chester-le-Street.
Bell took guard with England a precarious 49 for three, only 17 in front, but never gave a chance in a four-hour hundred which took his series tally to almost 500 and the hosts to 234 for five.
His unbeaten 105 means Bell currently averages more than 40 in excess of any other Englishman with one Test to go, and, without his prolific form, it is hard to see how the hosts would have an unassailable 2-0 lead already.
Without him on day three here, in stands of 106 and 66 alongside Kevin Pietersen and then Jonny Bairstow, they might well have been vulnerable.
By the time Bell pushed Jackson Bird to mid-on and scurried his 100th run, from his 184th ball, England were instead in a degree of comfort.
In the morning, they took Australia’s last five wickets for 48 runs to bowl them out for 270. But, after Ryan Harris (three for 74) put England under pressure, Bell and Pietersen had to respond. The variable on this pitch has been the amount of seam movement, which at times has been extreme but was mostly modest today, allowing Bell to progress without alarm. Pietersen too played a fine hand for his team, yet rarely looked in control, and was still struggling to work out an effective plan against Nathan Lyon when he aimed the off-spinner to leg from round the wicket only to pop a catch up to cover off a leading edge.
Bairstow’s was also an important support role until he was caught-behind cutting when Lyon found a little extra bounce.
Joe Root’s was the first wicket to fall to a very good delivery from Harris, which seamed off the angle to hit the top of off-stump. There was perhaps little he could have done differently but the same was not true of Alastair Cook, who chased and edged a wide one.
Jonathan Trott then also found Haddin’s gloves.
As Australia’s innings subsided this morning, Rogers and his overnight partner Haddin could add only ten runs between them.
England were into the tail almost immediately, when Graeme Swann had Haddin lbw in the first full over of the day. Rogers’ near six-hour vigil ended too, before Australia reached parity or the second new ball, thanks again to Swann, who took his Test tally against Australia to 50 wickets, as well as an alert Matt Prior and the effectiveness of Hot Spot.
The thermal-imaging technology settled an otherwise unclear issue when Prior lunged athletically from behind the wickets to short-leg to catch the ball after Rogers pushed forward at Swann.
Umpire Tony Hill ruled not out, but Hot Spot told third official Marais Erasmus there was feint impact with glove before pad and Rogers had to go at last after his 250 balls of skilful defiance.
Anderson picked up his first wicket when Peter Siddle guided a catch low to Cook at slip, and then Lyon fell to England’s pace lynchpin, lbw shuffling across the crease.
Australia still had a review left, but did not use it, and Hawk-Eye later indicated the decision would have been overturned.
Harris was not yet done with and hit three successive and resounding boundaries off Broad before the bowler got his revenge to finish with five wickets.
Hill, who has had a tough match so far, gave Harris not out lbw only for big-screen evidence to demonstrate an overturn, and the players were already walking off for the change of innings by the time the umpire could signal the inevitable.