An Ian Bell century helped England fight back on day three of a delicately poised 4th Ashes test in Durham.
Bell hit his third hundred of the series to help England move to 233-5 with a lead of 202 at stumps, however the wickets of Kevin Pietersen and Jonny Bairstow gives the visitors hope of claiming a much-needed test win.
Earlier in the day England had done a fine job of restricting Australia’s first innings lead when it had looked overnight as though they may work themselves into a commanding position.
Chris Rodgers, Australia’s hero the day before, and overnight partner Brad Haddin were removed by Graeme Swann before the new ball was taken, and then the quick bowlers returned and cleaned up the tail.
James Anderson snared Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon, and only Ryan Harris offered any resistance as a series of lofty blows helped Australia establish a lead of 32 by the time Stuart Broad claimed his 5th wicket of the innings when he caught his fellow bowler in front of his stumps.
England’s openers emerged from the pavilion knowing that with the weather set fair for the afternoon they should be able to make steady progress, but three early wickets meant establishing a score that would prove difficult for Australia to chase was looking unlikely.
Joe Root, Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott – all three of whom have largely struggled in this series – fell to the irrepressible Harris, leaving the rebuilding effort to Messrs Bell and Pietersen.
The pair did the job superbly, although their 100-run partnership was bought up in fortuitous fashion as Pietersen inside edged a ball just past his own stumps as well as the despairing lunge of wicketkeeper Brad Haddin.
After making serene progress, especially through Bell who was driving sublimely, Pietersen’s leading edge from a Nathan Lyon delivery that fell into the hands of Rodgers came as something of a surprise.
Suddenly the game was in the balance once more, and when Lyon removed the struggling Bairstow for 28 the momentum looked to be with the visitors.
Tim Bresnan partnered Bell through to the close to ensure there were no more costly losses for the home side, but with Pietersen and then Bairstow gone, the game is now tantalisingly in the balance with two days to go.
However with Bell still at the crease, England's hopes of setting an imposing total and winning the series outright in Durham remain intact.