CHESTER-LE-STREET, England, (Reuters) – England run-machine Ian Bell delivered another century from his Ashes series production line to engineer a spirited fightback on the third day of the fourth test against Australia yesterday.
Ryan Harris had sent shudders through the home dressing room by grabbing three early wickets but Bell weathered the storm with a majestic unbeaten 105 that led England to 234 for five in their second innings at the close, an overall lead of 202 runs.
The low-scoring game in County Durham is still tantalisingly poised with two days to go and, with the wicket getting lower and also offering increasing turn for the spinners, Australia will not want to chase a target in excess of 270 or 280.
Kevin Pietersen and Jonny Bairstow gave Bell solid support, contributing 44 and 28 respectively.
The 31-year-old Bell, who has now accumulated three hundreds and two half-centuries in the series, repaired the damage caused by Harris who produced a fiery spell of fast bowling to remove Joe Root, Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott.
Root was the first to go, clean bowled for two by a perfect delivery that pitched on middle before uprooting his off stump.
Captain Cook (22) followed his fellow opener back to the pavilion with the total on 42, playing a poor shot to a wide ball and feathering a catch behind to Brad Haddin.
Harris claimed his third victim seven runs later when Trott (23) gloved a short ball down the leg side and Haddin swooped for an athletic catch.
Bell was then joined in the middle by Pietersen and the pair repelled Australia’s assault with a stand of 106, a fourth-wicket alliance that could eventually prove a match-winner.
The tourists were hampered when all-rounder Shane Watson was unable to finish his seventh over because of pain around his right hip and groin. It is not yet known if he will be able to bat in his team’s second innings.
Australia wasted an lbw review when Pietersen was hit way outside the off stump by paceman Jackson Bird but they did not have to wait much longer to remove the South African-born batsman.
Pietersen tried to play off-spinner Nathan Lyon through the leg side and only succeeded in lofting a gentle catch off the leading edge to Chris Rogers at extra cover.
Bell was knocked off his feet by a vicious bumper from Harris but the England batsman had the last laugh, bringing up his 20th test century just before the close with a single to mid-on off Bird.
He celebrated by punching the air before shaking the hand of nightwatchman Tim Bresnan who finished undefeated on four.
England first innings 238 all out (A.Cook 51, N.Lyon 4-42)
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 (lb-2, b-4) 6
Total (for 5 wickets) 234
Fall of wickets: 1-17 2-42 3-49 4-155 5-221
Bowling: Harris 20-1-74-3, Bird 17.3-6-45-0, Watson 6.3-1-22-0, Siddle 12-3-40-0, Lyon 17-2-46-2, Smith 1-0-1-0
Australia first innings
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 (nb-2 b-2 lb-11, w-1) 16
Total (all out) 270
Fall of wickets: 1-12 2-12 3-49 4-76 5-205 6-224 7-233 8-245 9-258
Bowling: Anderson 25-8-65-2, Broad 24.3-7-71-5 (nb-2, w-1), Bresnan 19-3-63-1, Swann 18-5-48-2, Trott 3-0-10-0
England lead the five-match series 2-0