Bell ton gives England upper hand
Imperious Ian Bell struck his third century of this summer's Ashes as England wrested back the initiative in the fourth Investec Test against Australia at Chester-le-Street.
Bell took guard with England a precarious 49 for three, only 17 in front, but never gave a chance in a four-hour hundred which took his series tally to almost 500 and the hosts to 234 for five.
His unbeaten 105 means Bell currently averages more than 40 in excess of any other Englishman with one Test to go, and without his prolific form it is hard to see how the hosts would have an unassailable 2-0 lead already and the urn in safe keeping.
Without him on day three here, in stands of 106 and 66 alongside Kevin Pietersen and then Jonny Bairstow, they might well have been vulnerable.
By the time Bell pushed Jackson Bird to mid-on and scurried his 100th run, from his 184th ball, England were instead in a degree of comfort.
In the morning, they took Australia's last five wickets - including that of Chris Rogers (110) - for 48 runs to bowl them out for 270.
But after Ryan Harris (three for 74) put England under pressure, Bell and Pietersen had to respond.
The variable on this pitch has been the amount of seam movement, which at times has been extreme but was mostly modest on Sunday, allowing Bell to progress without significant alarm but initial caution before growing confidence bred an array of ever more silky shots among his 10 fours in his 20th Test century.
Bell inside-edged one boundary past leg-stump and perilously close to a diving Brad Haddin shortly after tea off Harris. But otherwise, he was a reassuring and increasingly commanding presence.
Pietersen too played a fine hand for his team yet rarely looked in control, and was still struggling to work out an effective plan against Nathan Lyon when he aimed the off-spinner to leg from round the wicket only to pop a catch up to cover off a leading edge.
Bairstow's was also an important support role until he was caught-behind cutting when Lyon found a little extra bounce.
Joe Root's was the first wicket to fall to a very good delivery from Harris which seamed off the angle to hit the top of off-stump.
There was perhaps little he could have done differently but the same was not true of Alastair Cook, who chased and edged a wide one.
Jonathan Trott then also found Haddin's gloves, bounced out as Harris persisted with a line of attack into his body and was rewarded with a catch down the leg side.
As Australia's innings subsided, Rogers and his overnight partner Haddin could add only 10 runs between them.
England were into the tail almost immediately, when Graeme Swann had Haddin lbw in the first full over of the day.
Haddin went back and missed in defence, and used up the first review as Hawk-Eye unsurprisingly projected impact halfway up the stumps.
Rogers' near six-hour vigil ended too, before Australia reached parity or the second new ball, thanks again to Swann, as well as an alert Matt Prior and the effectiveness of Hot Spot.
The thermal-imaging technology has come in for plenty of scrutiny in this controversial summer for the decision review system, but it settled an otherwise unclear issue when Prior lunged athletically from behind the wickets to short-leg to catch the ball after Rogers pushed forward at Swann, who was taking his Test tally against Australia to 50 wickets.
Umpire Tony Hill ruled not out, but Hot Spot told third official Marais Erasmus there was feint impact with glove before pad and Rogers had to go at last after his 250 balls of skilful defiance.
Peter Siddle and Harris were therefore exposed to James Anderson and Stuart Broad in full cry.
Anderson picked up his first wicket when Siddle guided a catch low to Cook at slip, and then Lyon fell to England's pace lynchpin too, lbw shuffling across the crease.
Australia still had a review left, but did not use it, and Hawk-Eye later indicated the decision would have been overturned.
Harris was not yet done with and hit three successive and resounding boundaries off Broad before the bowler got his revenge to finish with five wickets.
Hill, who has had a tough match so far, gave Harris not out lbw only for big-screen evidence to demonstrate an overturn, and the players were already walking off for the change of innings by the time the umpire could signal the inevitable.