Centuries by 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 broke his 18-Test drought against Australia with 115 and his elusive first Ashes century to have England in command with a 208-run lead and two days left to force a result.
When bad light ended play with five scheduled overs left, England were 488-7 with Matt Prior on 54 and Tim Bresnan yet to score.
Cook was finally out driving at Shane Watson and getting a thick edge to a diving Michael Hussey at gully not long after tea, while Bell was caught at slip by Michael Clarke off Mitchell Johnson.
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.
Sixteenth career Test century
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.
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 for the third umpire to check on a suspected no-ball.
Replays showed the spinner had overstepped and Cook batted on.
Cook’s magnificent series was also a remarkable turnaround in personal fortunes after coming into this Ashes contest averaging just 26,21 against Australia.
Cook last toured Australia as a 21-year-old, scoring 276 runs at 27,60 as Australia swept the 2006-07 series 5-0.
Bell also had the benefit of a referral 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 and Bell stayed his ground.
The Warwickshire right-hander was also dropped on 84 by legspinner Steven Smith in a hot caught and bowled chance late in the day.
He batted for 296 minutes and faced 232 balls with 13 fours.
Maiden Test wicket for Beer
Beer went on finally to claim 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 and increased the pressure on him to hold 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 Australia 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. — Sapa-AFP