IAN Bell wrested control of the fourth Investec Test back England’s way with his third century of the series on day three at Chester-le-Street.
After England shot out Australia’s last five batsmen in 75 minutes this morning to concede only a 32-run deficit, Bell then set about his now familiar task of grinding his side into the ascendancy.
The right-hander finished unbeaten on a chanceless 105, becoming the ninth Englishman to record three Ashes hundreds in a series and ensuring a dominating closing total of 234 for five.
That represented a lead of 202 which had seemed outside of reasonable grasp when Bell strode to the crease with England three down and just 17 in front.
Ryan Harris did all the early damage as he first produced a vicious leg-cutter that beat Joe Root’s defences before locating the top of his off-stump.
Alastair Cook then wafted at a wide one before Jonathan Trott gloved a short ball, Brad Haddin holding on to both chances, to leave England in real trouble.
But not for the first time this summer, Bell set about the repair work as he and Kevin Pietersen put on a valuable stand of 106 around tea.
Pietersen (44) and Jonny Bairstow (28) fell to off-spinner Nathan Lyon in the evening session, but Bell remained to bring up his 20th Test century 10 minutes before the close. Nightwatchman Tim Bresnan was the other unbeaten batsman on four.
At the start of play, the new ball loomed as the key to England’s hopes of making quick progress into Australia’s order after they resumed at 222 for five.
It was, however, off-spinner Graeme Swann who was crucially able to remove centurion Chris Rogers (110) and his overnight partner Brad Haddin (13) in the 5.2 overs before it was due.
That left Australia’s tail exposed to the new ball and Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, who finished with five for 71, did the required clean-up work despite some late hitting from Harris (28).