By Matthew Sherry at the Emirates Durham ICG and Rob Barnett
Ian Bell further stamped his mark on the 2013 Investec Ashes with a restorative unbeaten 105 that put England in position to complete a series victory.
It appeared Australia’s chances of a win that would keep alive their hopes of a series draw had improved significantly when England slumped to 49 for three in their second innings, only 17 runs ahead at the Emirates Durham ICG.
But the diminutive batsman once again showed great composure, his display ultimately ensuring England ended with a lead of 202 – commanding on a surface that history suggests will offer further assistance – on 234 for five.
That position was harsh on Ryan Harris, the paceman’s return of 3-74 far from fair reward following a display of skill and determination; however, it is difficult to imagine Bell, nor England, minding.
Cricket’s greatest rivalry is often recalled for individual brilliance in rubbers, be it Sir Ian Botham in 1981, Andrew Flintoff in 2005 or Alastair Cook in 2010-11.
And the 2013 edition may well be remembered as ‘Bell’s Ashes’, particularly following another outstandingly assured performance.
Having struck 109s in the first encounter at Trent Bridge and second at Lord’s, the number five today became just the ninth Englishman to strike three hundreds in an Ashes series.
Forever seemingly surrounded by doubters who questioned his appetite for the big occasion, even when all evidence in recent years flew in the face of such arguments, this series is likely to prove career-defining for the Warwickshire batsman.
Indeed, while his outstanding return of 504 runs in four Tests against India two years ago helped catapult England to the summit of the ICC rankings, it seems major success against the old enemy is necessary to satisfy some.
Bell can now cross that off his ‘to-do list’, for a return of 492 runs would represent a fine effort even in a completed series.
This knock predictably bore all the hallmarks of his others: chanceless, comfortable on the eye and totally imperious.
The enviable ease with which he bats, even in difficult situations, often gives cricket a computer-game like feel.
But his performances in this series, particularly at Trent Bridge and here, have come in situations of real pressure, from the occasion and opposition; were it not for both, England may well be staring at potentially being 2-1 down rather than looking favourite to move 3-0 ahead.
Bell walked to the middle this afternoon with England in the mire, a situation that was far removed from their outstanding start to the day.
Seemingly every session in this contest has had an important feel to it, but that was particularly true this morning.
Resuming just 16 runs adrift of England’s first-innings total with five wickets in hand, Australia had an opportunity to build a decisive lead.
However, Graeme Swann immediately undermined their hopes when trapping Brad Haddin plumb in front and having Chris Rogers brilliantly caught by Matt Prior, diving from his position behind the stumps to short-leg.
Undeterred by off-spinner Swann posing the biggest threat, Cook took the second new ball and his decision was rewarded as James Anderson had Peter Siddle held at slip before trapping Nathan Lyon lbw.
The perfect morning was then completed with Stuart Broad pinning Harris, following a cameo of 28, in front – much like the Rogers dismissal, England successfully utilised the Decision Review System after a not-out verdict from umpire Tony Hill – to complete a five-wicket haul and dismiss Australia for 270.
Facing a slender deficit of 32, the hosts were then put in trouble by the brilliant Harris.
Joe Root was first to go, beaten by a beauty that moved away and crashed into off stump just before lunch.
Cook and Jonathan Trott played some eye-catching strokes in their innings but, after the interval, were both caught behind off Harris; the former drove loosely outside off stump and the latter gloved a vicious throat ball.
But Harris’ third scalp merely heralded the arrival of Bell, who found a willing ally in Kevin Pietersen.
Though unable to ever look at his dominant best, Pietersen battled valiantly to compile 44 and, crucially, put on 106 with Bell, eventually departing when a leading edge from Lyon flew to cover.
The number four’s part in that alliance was in stark contrast to Jonny Bairstow’s alongside Bell.
The Yorkshire batsman dug himself into a hole in the first innings yet was in no mood to do so this evening, producing a series of powerful punches and drives in a momentum-continuing 28 – only to edge Lyon behind when well set.
The disappointment at his departure soon cleared, though, as Bell further ensured his name would become synonymous with this summer’s Ashes by reaching three figures.
England 2nd Innings
6:47pm - STUMPS! - Eng 234/5; Bell 105, Bresnan 4 - England, who have had an outstanding day, lead by 202 going into day four at the Emirates Durham ICG. Their response from 49 for three has been emphatic, led of course by the prolific Bell.
Another superb century for Ian Bell, his twentieth Test century. Fantastic performance and 4 in last 5 Tests against Australia
— Warwickshire CCC (@CricketingBears) August 11, 2013
6:37pm - HUNDRED! Bell (184b 10x4 0x6) - Bell opens the face to Bird and gets a top edge that just evades a diving Michael Clarke at wide slip, moving the batsman to 99. Next ball he chips just short of mid-on and scampers a single to register his third ton of the rubber, a superb effort by the Warwickshire man.
6:33pm - Lyon delivers a maiden to Bell, who has 97 to his name. Can he reach three figures in the remaining 12 minutes?
6:24pm - WICKET! Bairstow c Haddin b Lyon 28; Eng 221/5 - The off-spinner continues from round the wicket and Bairstow, forcing off the back foot, nicks behind for Haddin to take his 24th catch of the series. Australia desperately needed that breakthrough. Nightwatchman Tim Bresnan enters the fray.
6:22pm - Haddin concedes four byes as Lyon, bowling from round the wicket, strays down leg and the ball turns further away from the keeper.
6:15pm - Having picked up four more to third man off Bird, Bell powerfully drives Lyon down the ground to move into the 90s.
6:03pm - Bell drives Harris past mid-off for four but the bowler responds with a brute of a bouncer that puts the batsman on his backside. Bairstow then cuts Siddle to the boundary to move England past 200 and later in the over takes two to leg to herald a valuable fifty partnership.
5:54pm - Bairstow, who is growing in confidence, elegantly cover drives Harris for four.
5:50pm - The delay is brief as the action soon resumes, Siddle continuing his over to Bell who opens the face to guide the ball to the third-man rope. Play can now continue until 6:45pm.
The light must improve before 6.07pm or play will be suspended for today
— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket) August 11, 2013
5:43pm - Bad light forces the players off with England 186 for four, 154 ahead, Bell on 75 and Bairstow 18. The good news is there is blue sky nearby.
5:37pm - Bairstow reacts to a period of calm by again getting two straight fours, this time off Harris, the first via a back-foot cover drive and the second an emphatic pull.
5:25pm - Bairstow’s progress slows as he plays out maidens to Bird either side of a drinks break. England lead by 140 with six wickets left.
5:08pm - Bairstow, who in the first innings made 14 from 77 balls, announces himself by twice consecutively striking Lyon back over his head for four.
5:01pm - Following Bird’s maiden to Bell, Jonny Bairstow gets off the mark with a single through square-leg off Lyon.
4:52pm - WICKET! Pietersen c Rogers b Lyon 44; Eng 155/4 - Pietersen is determined to play Lyon to leg but succeeds only in looping a leading edge to cover where Chris Rogers dives forward to take a smart catch.
4:49pm - REVIEW - Watson pulls up after three balls of his second over in this spell and leaves the field, with an apparent groin injury. Jackson Bird takes over and strikes an advancing Pietersen on the pad. Australia review and replays show the impact is outside off stump. The tourists therefore lose their first review while England have two left.
4:41pm - CHANCE & HUNDRED PARTNERSHIP! After a Siddle maiden to Bell, the same batsman gets back on strike and punches Shane Watson to the extra-cover rope. Nathan Lyon replaces Siddle, and Pietersen immediately advances as the ball just misses off stump and beats gloveman Haddin to go for four, raising the century stand. Runs are given rather than byes, so it could have been a catch as well as a clear stumping.
4:28pm - FIFTY! Bell (100b 5x4 0x6) - Bell takes England’s lead to three figures by sweetly cover-driving Harris and immediately repeats the shot to reach a half-century. Having hit hundreds in the first two Tests, Bell is on course to be England’s man of the series. Later in the over Pietersen scores his first run since tea.
4:21pm - Blue skies have returned over the ground, but runs are still hard to come by.
4:13pm - Harris follows up Peter Siddle’s maiden to Kevin Pietersen with a tight over as Australia seek to build pressure.
4:03pm - Just as play resumes for the day’s last session, strong gusts of wind and light rain sweep through the Emirates Durham ICG. Play continues with Ian Bell inside-edging Ryan Harris between stumps and wicketkeeper Brad Haddin for four.
Highlights of the second session when Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen rebuilt for England
3:42pm - TEA! England 123/3; Pietersen 37, Bell 37- A fascinating session comes to an end, with Pietersen whipping Peter Siddle through square-leg before punching the seamer to the third-man fence for consecutive fours . The evening could be crucial in determining the outcome of this game.
3:22pm - An all-run four! Ah, one of cricket's great delights rears its head after Australia's fielders make a mess of returning Bell's clip through midwicket.
3:19pm - Pietersen gets hold of a pull that races to the midwicket fence. He and Bell's partnership is now beyond 50.
Jonathan Trott's attempted hook off the bowling of Ryan Harris is caught by Brad Haddin. Photo: Visionhaus pic.twitter.com/6ZMsm41OMR
— Investec Cricket (@InvestecCricket) August 11, 2013
3:02pm - The Mexican Wave going around the ground suggests the crowd do not agree with my assessment. Nathan Lyon, who grabbed four wickets in the first innings, starts by conceding four.
2:57pm - Still no third man but the runs have dried up somewhat. This feels like a huge partnership, although I almost said that about the last two as well. They're all huge in a Test this tight.
2:43pm - Bell picks up fours with - yes, you guessed it - late cuts either side of his partner edging through the cordon for another boundary. Cue all cricketers of yesteryear asking: where's the third man? They have a point - not the fielding position - mind, particularly to Bell.
2:30pm - Pietersen finds the fence with a fine pull; by fine, I mean it went fine rather than being particularly well-timed. England's number four is not looking totally comfortable just yet.
2:19pm - This is now a huge partnership between Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell, who have been England's most consistent batsmen in this series so far. The lead is currently just 22.
2:06pm - WICKET! Trott c Haddin b Harris 23; England 49/3 - Australia are on the charge and what a big wicket this is. Trott, once again looking in great nick, falls as Harris sends down a brutal throat ball that the number three gloves behind.
2pm - WICKET! Cook c Haddin b Harris 22; England 42/2 - I bet Alastair Cook wishes he could have that one back. Harris sends one across the captain, whose expansive drive results in a feather behind.
1:57pm - It seems we're set for an interesting period of play here; Australia skipper Michael Clarke has packed the leg side and is inviting his bowlers to target Trott's strength. The batsman is happy to play his shots in that area.
1:49pm - Jonathan Trott gets the afternoon session under way with a couple of twos off Jackson Bird that precede a clip through square-leg off Ryan Harris. The latter moved England into the lead.
Watch highlights of the opening session of day three from the Emirates Durham ICG
1:03pm - LUNCH! - England 24/1; Cook 14; Trott 5 - Jonathan Trott gets off the mark with a fine clip off his pads that flies just wide of leg slip before seeing England through to the interval alongside his captain.
12:51pm - WICKET! Root b Harris 2; England 17/1 - What a delivery that is. You can only feel for Root, who is beaten by a jaffa from Harris that moves away and takes off stump.
12:50pm - Another glorious stroke from England's skipper, who powerfully drives Bird down the ground for another boundary.
12:45pm - Joe Root, on the other hand, is struggling somewhat, edging Bird just short of slip before being beaten a couple of times by Harris.
12:37pm - Alastair Cook is off to a quick start, following up a cover-driven four off Jackson Bird with a clip off his legs for another in Harris' second over.
— Investec Cricket (@InvestecCricket) August 11, 2013
12:30pm - Ryan Harris, following a good cameo with the bat, begins England's second innings with a maiden.
Australia 1st Innings
12:16pm - WICKET! Harris lbw Broad 28; Australia 270 all out - Broad traps Harris plumb in front, although umpire Hill initially gave it not out. So out was it that, during England's review, the players started to walk off after the replay without seeing the HawkEye confirmation. Anyway, Broad ends with fine figures of 5-71 and Australia a lead of 32.
12:06pm - Lovely stuff from Harris, who is looking in fine touch. He pulls, clips and drives Broad for three successive boundaries and is on to 28.
11:59am - WICKET! Lyon lbw Anderson 4; Australia 258/9 - Two balls after edging Anderson through the cordon for four, Nathan Lyon is trapped plumb in front playing across the line.
— Investec Cricket (@InvestecCricket) August 11, 2013
11:56am - All runs are crucial from here on in, making Harris' driven four off Broad all the more valuable...
11:45am - WICKET! Siddle c Cook b Anderson 5; Australia 245/8 - Finally Anderson gets his first. Siddle falls in the same fashion as many other times in this series, edging straight to first slip - where Alastair Cook takes a fine, low catch.
11:42am - Cracking stuff from Stuart Broad, who beats Peter Siddle several times in a maiden over. He's been the best bowler on show in this match.
11:30am - Following Matt Prior's brilliant take to oust Rogers, why not watch this interview with England's wicketkeeper from this morning?
11:29am - Despite Swann's two early wickets, England immediately take the new ball. Ryan Harris responds by driving James Anderson powerfully down the ground for four to move Australia into the lead.
11:19am - WICKET! Rogers c Prior b Swann 110; Australia 233/7 - Excellent cricket from England. Swann finds a little extra bounce to take Rogers' glove and Matt Prior dives around to where short-leg would be and takes an outstanding catch. Umpire Tony Hill initially delivered a not-out verdict, but England reviewed and continued their fine start to the morning.
11:13am - Chris Rogers finds his first boundary of the morning when a thick edge off Swann flies past slip and to the fence.
11:03am - WICKET! Haddin lbw Swann 13; Australia 224/6 - What a start for England! Graeme Swann, from around the wicket, traps Brad Haddin in front when playing back in the day's second over. A review fails to save the Australian.
10:56am - Jerusalem and applause are ringing around the ground. You know what that means...
(2/2) The best individual Test bowling figures at Chester-le-Street are 6-33 by Richard Johnson v Zimbabwe 2003
— BBC TMS (@bbctms) August 11, 2013
The individual Test bests at Chester-le-Street are under threat. The highest score is 162* by Ian Bell v Bangladesh in 2005 (1/2) #Ashes
— BBC TMS (@bbctms) August 11, 2013
10:44am - That was a quick appearance from the covers; they're now off. All eyes will be on Chris Rogers when we get under way after he became the second-oldest Australian to hit a Test century. Read what he and Stuart Broad, who claimed 4-48, had to say yesterday here.
10:27am - While there is plenty of excitement surrounding this morning, when England will hunt quick wickets with Australia 16 behind on 222 for five, there are some showers expected this morning and the covers are now coming on.
10:15am - Hello and welcome to ecb.co.uk's live commentary from a crucial third day of the fourth Investec Ashes Test at the Emirates Durham ICG.