Cook hundred puts England in control

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Alastair Cook

Alastair Cook celebrates his first Test century since May, which strengthened England's hand in the Boxing Day Test

Alastair Cook worked his way back into form and England into a promising position with a century as the tourists dominated the third day at Durban.

Cook, whose previous Test hundred came against West Indies at Durham in May, struck a determined 118 before England overtook South Africa’s first-innings 343 to lead by 43 at the close.

The opener, who began the day on 31, scored only one in the first 50 minutes but steadily grew in confidence and reached his 10th Test ton on the stroke of afternoon drinks.

Cook typically scored the vast majority of his runs to leg. He dominated a stand of 142 with Paul Collingwood before edging the impressive Morne Morkel, who claimed 3-69, to Jacques Kallis at second slip after tea.

Collingwood, a consistent run-scorer throughout the tour, fell nine short of three figures when he cue-ended JP Duminy’s part-time finger spin behind.

Ian Bell, under pressure after two failures in the drawn first Test at Centurion, was 55 not out as England reached 386 for five at stumps.

Matt Prior was unbeaten on 11 as much improved light from the first two days, which both finished early, allowed two and a half hours of play in the first and final sessions.

England lost Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen this morning under gloriously sunny skies accompanied all day by a strong wind at Kingsmead.

Trott could only add one to his overnight 17 before edging Morkel to Mark Boucher, diving to his right, in the second over after England resumed on 103 for one.

Cook and Pietersen added 51 in 20 overs but Pietersen perished the ball after Cook went to 50.

Left-arm spinner Paul Harris trapped Pietersen in front for 31 just over 30 minutes into the first session, extended by half an hour due to yesterday’s early finish for bad light.

Cook and Pietersen took their time to recover the loss of Trott as South Africa’s bowlers, rotated by Graeme Smith, showed greater discipline than yesterday.

Paul Collingwood & AB de Villiers

Paul Collingwood enjoys the fruit of his earlier hard work during a fine partnership worth 142 with opener Cook

Pietersen was given a life on 20 when Kallis let a chance off Harris through his hands at slip.

However, it was not too costly as Pietersen perished immediately after Cook went to a 136-ball half-century.

The opener found greater fluency and scoring opportunities thereafter as the bowlers tired in the heat.

Cook, like Andrew Strauss yesterday, successfully reviewed a decision to give him out caught off bat and pad.

Television replays showed the left-hander, on 64, failed to get any bat on a delivery from Harris which was taken by Hashim Amla at short-leg.

England’s 200 arrived 15 minutes after lunch, taken at 190 for three, when Collingwood punched Dale Steyn through cover for four.

The pair continued relatively untroubled although Cook showed a few signs of nerves as he neared three figures.

However, he reached his hundred by clipping Makhaya Ntini through midwicket for a single.

The fourth-wicket pair’s century alliance, from 194 balls, came virtue of Collingwood’s tickled four to fine-leg off Duminy.

That took Collingwood to the verge of fifty, a milestone he reached from 106 balls with a single off Harris shortly before Smith took the new ball.

South Africa’s pacemen threw everything at the pair before tea, which came at 281 for three as Cook and Collingwood remained resolute.

Cook perished after the interval, having faced 263 balls and hit 11 fours, more than 24 hours after first taking guard.

Ian Bell

Ian Bell evades a Morne Morkel bouncer early in his fluent innings of 55 not out

But England continued past 300 thanks to Collingwood’s powerful cut for four off Steyn.

Bell survived a fiery introduction, particularly from Morkel, and struck the first six of the innings by lofting Harris over long-on.

The tourists went level with South Africa from the same number of overs – 108.3 – and Bell’s single off Ntini took them in front.

Bell contributed 33 of a half-century stand with Collingwood, who fell from his 215th ball after seven fours.

Bell then went to a fluent 50 from 65 deliveries before Amla shelled Prior on six from a tough chance at short-leg off Kallis.

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