Alastair Cook and Ian Bell struck centuries as England built a 208-run lead over Australia on day three to take control of the deciding fifth Ashes cricket Test in Sydney.
Cook hit 189, his third century of the series, while Bell made 115 for his first Test hundred against Australia to help guide England to 488-7 in reply to the home team’s 280. Matt Prior was 54 not out when bad light ended play five overs early.
England is pushing for its first series win in Australia for 24 years having already retained the Ashes by taking an unbeatable 2-1 lead in the best-of-five contest. England last won back-to-back Tests on Australian soil in 1979.
“We want to go home winning this series,” Cook told Channel Nine. “That was our aim coming into this game and that’s what we’ll try to do with another two days left.”
A win for Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground, rated a 25-1 outside chance by bookmaker William Hill Plc, would tie the series at 2-2, the first such score line since 1972. England is the 2-5 favorite to complete a 3-1 victory.
The touring team resumed at 167-3 and lost night-watchman James Anderson for 7 and Paul Collingwood for 13 in the morning session before Cook and Bell were paired with the score at 226-5. They shared a 154-run partnership for the sixth wicket to take England beyond Australia’s first-innings total.
Second to Hammond
Cook’s 342-ball innings, which ended when Shane Watson had him caught by Mike Hussey, took his series-leading tally to 766 runs, the second most by an England batsman in a series against Australia after Wally Hammond’s 905 in 1928-29.
Left-handed opener Cook made 235 not out in the opening match in Brisbane and 148 in Adelaide and now averages 127.6 for the series from seven innings.
“It’s been an amazing five, six weeks for us as a side and for me personally,” Cook added. “It’s great to be on the crest of a wave and enjoying it.”
Bell, who had failed to convert any of his previous 11 half-centuries against the Australians into triple figures, took 209 balls to reach his hundred, his 12th century in elite Tests. He was out caught behind off a Mitchell Johnson delivery, a dismissal that ended a 107-run stand with Prior.
“It’s a fantastic moment to eventually get a hundred against Australia,” Bell told Channel Nine. “I felt like I’ve been in pretty good nick and good touch throughout the tour so it was nice to put it together. At times we had to work pretty hard for our runs. Every run counts for us.”
Both century-makers had some fortune in reaching their milestones.
After being caught off a Michael Beer no-ball when on 46 yesterday, Cook was centimeters short of being caught by Phil Hughes off the same bowler when on 99. A television umpire referral showed that Hughes took the catch on the half-volley.
“Today was a tough day,” Beer said. “We ended up getting him, but a bit later unfortunately.”
Bell’s escape came on 67 after he called for a review when umpire Aleem Dar gave him caught behind off Shane Watson. In the absence of video evidence to support the decision, it was overturned, though later replays using so-called Snickometer technology suggested there had been an inside edge.
Beer, making his debut for Australia in place of the injured Ryan Harris, earlier broke through for his first Test wicket when he had Collingwood caught by Ben Hilfenhaus. Anderson was earlier bowled by Peter Siddle in the sixth over.
As holder of the Ashes, England will keep the trophy even if Australia ties the series. It’s the first time England successfully retained the Ashes since 1986-87, when Mike Gatting’s squad secured a 2-1 win in the last series victory on Australian soil by a touring England team.