SYDNEY, January 5 – Centuries from Alastair Cook and Ian Bell put England within sight of their first series victory in Australia for 24 years after a dominant third day at the final Sydney Ashes Test on Wednesday.
Cook again tormented Australia with 189 while Bell scored his elusive first Ashes century, breaking an 18-Test drought against Australia with 115 to leave England with a commanding 208-run lead and two days play to force a result.
When bad light ended play with five overs left, England were 488 for seven with Matt Prior on 54 and Tim Bresnan yet to score.
It puts the tourists in a strong position having already retained the Ashes after a convincing victory over Australia last week in the fourth Test in Melbourne.
Cook was finally out driving at Shane Watson and edged to a diving Michael Hussey at gully after tea, while Bell was caught at slip by Michael Clarke off Mitchell Johnson.
"We obviously had a really good day," Cook said. "But we have to go out and win that first hour tomorrow and get as many runs as we can to build our lead up then put Australia under some pressure with our bowling."
Cook blunted Australia’s attack in over eight hours’ of supreme concentration spread over 342 balls with 16 fours.
Along the way, the left-handed opener extended his series aggregate to 766 at 127.66, second only to Wally Hammond (905 in 1928-29) for most runs for England in a series in Australia.
Cook, who has batted for almost 36 hours in the series — equivalent to six days’ play — tilted the pendulum towards the tourists with a 154-run sixth-wicket partnership with Bell.
He was denied his second double-century of the series after his unbeaten 235 in the first Brisbane Test. He also scored 148 in Adelaide.
It was his 16th career Test century and he now has 5,130 runs at 47.50.
The Essex left-hander survived a fright on 99 when close-in fielder Phillip Hughes claimed a catch off spinner Michael Beer, only for a referral to show that the ball had bounced just before the fielder’s hands.
"Phil Hughes said he wasn’t sure, they went upstairs and I think the right decision was made," Cook said.
It was Cook’s second close shave of his innings — both off debutant Beer.
Beer celebrated what he thought was his first Test wicket late on Tuesday when Cook, then on 46, skied to Ben Hilfenhaus at deep mid-on only for umpire Billy Bowden to ask the third umpire to check on a suspected no-ball.
Replays showed the spinner had overstepped and Cook batted on.
Despite the daunting task ahead of his team, acting captain Clarke has not given up on an against-the-odds Australian win.
"I’m confident if we come out out tomorrow and get these last couple of wickets, we’re going to have to bat our backsides off," he said.
"We’re going to have to put up a really good fight and get a big total. If we can get somewhere between a 180-200 run lead, on the last day of the SCG Test match, I’m confident we can still win the game."
Bell also benefited from a reviewed decision after he was given out caught behind when 67 off Shane Watson by umpire Aleem Dar.
Replays could not show any mark on the "hot spot" technology and Dar reversed his decision.
The Warwickshire right-hander, who batted for 296 minutes, was also dropped on 84 by legspinner Steven Smith off his own bowling.
Beer finally claimed his maiden Test wicket when he had the out-of-form Paul Collingwood caught in the deep for 13.
Collingwood, whose Test future is up the air after dismal batting returns in the series, tried to smash Beer down the ground only to skew high to a back-pedalling Hilfenhaus at mid-on.
The dismissal took his series tally to 83 from six innings, further increasing the pressure on his Test place.
Nightwatchman James Anderson was out 20 minutes into the third day when he was bowled by Peter Siddle for seven.
England, who lead the series 2-1, outplayed the hosts in Adelaide and Melbourne while Australia won the third Test in Perth. The first Brisbane Test was drawn.
England were the last team to beat Australia at the SCG, in 2003.