At the end of the third day of the fifth and final Ashes 2010/2011 test at the SCG, in Sydney, Australian hopes of levelling the series looked to be forlorn, as England, aided by centuries from Alistair Cook (189) and Ian Bell (115) took a commanding first innings lead.
England ended the day on 488 for 7 wickets, having passed Australia’s first innings score of 280 all out, meaning England led, at stumps on day three in Sydney, by 208 runs.
Having started the day at 167 for 3 the game was poised, and the first hour seemed to be hugely important. As things turned out, Cook played a sensible, patient innings and built another great score to take his personal tally for this series to 766.
Night watchman, James Anderson (7), was the first wicket to fall, early in the day, as he was bowled by Siddle. Up stepped Paul Collingwood, who needed to build a solid innings for England and himself, having endured a torrid time with the bat this series, while those around him have all made at least one good score. Collingwood fell for 13, however, and could have been out three times during his brief 41 ball cameo, before being caught Hilfenhaus, bowled Beer.
The score had reached 226 for 5 when Collingwood went, however, as Cook had kept the scoreboard ticking at his end, and, when joined by Ian Bell (115), the pair set about piling on a further 154 runs together (an SCG record for an English sixth wicket stand), to pass the Australian total.
During this time, Cook passed the century mark with only one or two nervy moments, particularly when Hughes claimed to have caught him on the agonising 99 score, though the ball, upon review, clearly bounced first.
Cook and Bell batted for an entire session together, before Cook fell 11 short of his double century, caught Mike Hussey from the bowling of Shane Watson. Up until then, Australia had tried seven bowlers, with limited success, to try to winkle out this in-form free scoring partnership.
The scoreboard read a healthier 380 for 7 when Cook fell, and Matt Prior (54 not out) picked up where the opener had left off – adding a further 107 runs in partnership with Bell, during which time the latter collected his first Ashes century.
Bell eventually fell in the final overs caught Clarke bowled Mitchell Johnson, but, by then, the damage had largely been done, and Australia’s celebrations were muted.
England added one further run following Bell’s dismissal, to end the day on 488 for 7, looking for all the world like the first England team to win an Ashes series in Australia since the 1980s.
England have free reign to swing their bats tomorrow morning, before taking as close to two days as possible to bowl the Australian side out. The match could well finish with a draw, still, thanks to the cricket we missed on the opening day, but the pressure will clearly be on Australia’s inconsistent batsmen to bat through and avoid an innings defeat, with a third innings deficit which may well be around the 300 mark.
A draw or an England win means an England series win, so the odds are stacked against Australia.
On the third day, with the sun beating down on them from clear blue skies, Cook and Bell’s batting appears to have taken the series out of reach for England.