England are in a strong position at stumps on Day 3 of the fifth and final Ashes Test, at Sydney, with the score at 488/7 and the lead at 208. The advantageous status was brought about mainly due to a 189 from Alistair Cook, an a 115 from Ian Bell as well as an unbeaten half-century by Matt Prior.
With nightwatchman James Anderson for company, English opener Alistair Cook, picked up from where he had left off. He hit the first boundary of Day 3 off Peter Siddle in the 52nd over (fourth of the day). Anderson too had apparently brought some class to the crease and wasn't going to surrender meekly.
He picked a four off Ben Hilfenhaus, courtesy a beautiful cover-drive in the next over. But the nightwatchman was dismissed in the following over when Siddle bowled him for 7. England has slipped to 181/4 and Australia were fancying their chances of effecting a middle-order collapse, especially with an out-of-form Paul Collingwood as the new man at the crease.
But he did the right thing in giving Cook most of the strike. Cook knocked a couple of boundaries off Mitchell Johnson and in the 66th over, ran a singel off Beer to reach his third century of the series. But Collingwood's poor ran continued when off-spinner Michael Beer induced him into an extravagant slog, which fell into the safe hands of mid-off. Collingwood had fallen for 13 and England were in a spot of bother at 225/5 in 68.3 overs.
But new batsman Ian Bell, who has played responsibly and effectively in the series so far, was the right bloke for the situation. From the 79th to the 81st over, he alternated hitting fours with Cook, as the two took England into lunch at 277/5, just 3 behind Australia's first innings total.
After the break, the two batsman carried on in the same vein. Bell smacked Hilfenhaus and Siddle for a boundary each in successive overs and Cook replied with a four of his own off Johnson to bring up England's 300 in the 90th over. Singles and doubles and fairly frequent fours followed as the Australians were made to toil without much hope.
In the 104th over, Bell smashed legspinner Steven Smith for a mid-off four to take England past 350. There was no stopping this batsman as immediately after reaching his 50 in the 107th over, he helped himself to a boundary each of Hilfenhaus and Smith. But a handful of overs later, Shane Watson finally got the breakthrough when he had Cook snapped up by Michael Hussey at gully. The batsman had fallen short of his double-ton, getting out for 189. But he had served his purpose, seeing England through a patchy passage of play and giving them a 100-run lead
With the score at 380/6, Matt Prior walked to the crease. The Australians again found themselves at the wrong side of the umpire review system when Bell who had been given out caught behind, appealed against the decision and with replays showing no nick off his bat, survived on 67. To add insult to injury, Prior slammed Hilfenhaus for two boundaries in the next over. Then, two overs later, he ran three runs to bring up England's 400.
Good fortune continued to smile on Bell who was dropped while giving a return catch to Smith in the 125th over. The respite came with Bell on 86 and fast approaching his century. The batting pair continued to torment the bowlers whose heads had by now dropped in despair. In the 132nd over, Prior smashed Siddle for a four to take England past 450. In the following over, Bell picked Smith for two runs and thus reached his century. The ton had come off 209 balls and was studded with 11 fours.
As the day drew to a close, Prior reached his half-century in the 138th over when he swatted Johnson for a boundary. But just a couple of overs later, Johnson's hard work was eventually rewarded when he had him caught by Michael Clarke at slips. Bell had to depart for a well-made 115 and England ended the day at 488/7 in 141 overs.
England will certainly want to keep piling on the runs when the two sides resume battle on Day 4. They may want to try and stretch their lead to over 300 to enable themselves in putting severe pressure on Australia in the second innings. For the hosts, it's an uphill fight for survival from here on end as their hopes of winning the match and leveling the series gradually faded into oblivion on Day 3.