Ian Bell wrested control of the fourth 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 yesterday 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 defence 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.
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).
England (1st Innings) 238
Australia (1st Innings) 270 (overnight: 222-5)
C Rogers c Prior b Swann 110
D Warner b Broad 3
U Khawaja c Prior b Broad 0
M Clarke c Cook b Broad 6
S Smith c Prior b Bresnan 17
S Watson c Prior b Broad 68
B Haddin lbw b Swann 13
P Siddle c Cook b Anderson 5
R Harris lbw b Broad 28
N Lyon lbw b Anderson 4
J Bird not out 0
Extras (B2, Lb11, W1, Nb2) 16
Total (all out, 89.3 overs) 270
Fall of wickets 1-12, 2-12, 3-49, 4-76, 5-205, 6-224, 7-233, 8-245, 9-258, 10-270.
Bowling Anderson 25-8-65-2, Broad 24.3-7-71-5, Bresnan 19-3-63-1, Swann 18-5-48-2, Trott 3-0-10-0
England (2nd Innings)
A Cook c Haddin b Harris 22
J Root b Harris 2
J Trott c Haddin b Harris 23
K Pietersen c Rogers
b Lyon 44
I Bell not out 105
J Bairstow c Haddin
b Lyon 28
T Bresnan not out 4
Extras (B4, Lb2) 6
Total (5 wkts, 74 overs) 234
Fall of wickets 1-17, 2-42, 3-49, 4-155, 5-221.
Bowling Harris 20-1-74-3, Bird 17.3-5-45-0, Watson 6.3-1-22-0, Siddle 12-3-40-0, Lyon 17-2-46-2, Smith 1-0-1-0