Sydney:England are well placed to earn their first series victory in Australia for 24 years, having already retained the Ashes, after a day of dominant batting at the SCG as they built a lead of 208. The record-breaking Alastair Cook led the way with 189, his third hundred of the series, and Ian Bell scored his first century against Australia with an elegant, albeit controversial, 115.
Cook and Bell added 154 for the sixth wicket in the match-defining partnership and England's command was cemented when Matt Prior joined to add 107 for the seventh with Bell. It was another chastening day for Australia, who couldn't stem the flow of runs, and for Michael Clarke who now really knows the challenge ahead if he is the long-term captain.
As he did at Brisbane, Cook went through a host of records and by the time he fell had 766 series runs, leaving him second behind Wally Hammond's 903 in the 1928-29 Ashes for England batsmen. Incredibly, in an era when there are few tour matches, he also passed 1000 first-class runs for the trip and has now also spent longer at the crease in a series than any other England player.
For Bell this was the innings he'd been waiting his career to play, converting his pristine form into that cherished hundred. He has never played better than on this trip and again he oozed class. His cover drives continually bisected the field with timing to beat the deep sweepers but it wasn't an innings without controversy. On 67 he was given caught behind off an inside edge only for the decision to be overturned on review, even though there didn't appear to be conclusive evidence, and Snicko later proved Bell had edged the ball.
He was also dropped on 84, a firmly-struck return catch to Steve Smith, but was rarely troubled and reached his hundred with a back-foot push through the covers. While Bell didn't sweat much in the 90s, Cook had a nervous wait on 99 when he flicked a delivery from Michael Beer towards short leg where Phil Hughes claimed the catch and the Australians began celebrating. Cook, though, stood his ground and TV replays showed the ball clearly bounced and Hughes was unsure before joining in late with the appeal.
It was the second time Beer had been denied Cook's wicket after yesterday's no-ball and in the spinner's next over, Cook worked a single into the leg side to reach his hundred. He'd had a few other tricky moments, when he edged Shane Watson short of second slip on 87 then after passing his hundred nearly chipped Beer to midwicket, but it was a commanding display as he worked his way through the record books once again.
England really put their foot on Australia's throat when the second new ball was taken shortly before lunch as Cook and Bell both took advantage of the extra hardness. Clarke couldn't find a combination that worked as he made seven bowling changes in 14 overs. Ben Hilfenhaus's first over back went for eight then Bell played two perfect straight drives off Peter Siddle having taken time to play himself in. Bell knew this was the chance to make his good form count when it could make a real difference.
He had so much time to play against the quicks and toyed with Beer's length as he waited for anything short. Cook was also positive against the left-armer despite having a few more issues from the footmarks and drove impressively through the covers. Bell reached his fifty by using his feet against Smith - finally given a bowl in the 101st over - and launching him straight down the ground. By tea even Mike Hussey was having a bowl.
Cook looked set to join Hammond as the only England batsman with two double hundreds in a series but finally edged a drive to Hussey in the gully. However, his dismissal barely hampered England's progress as Prior played the perfect role to build England's lead at a swift pace. He lofted Smith for six and peppered the off side in a 54-ball half-century and, after passing his hundred, Bell joined in with ever more expressive strokeplay until edging Mitchell Johnson to slip.
The only sour note on England's day was another failure for Paul Collingwood who can only dream of the form shown by Cook and Bell. He found the middle of his bat largely elusive during a 41-ball stay and Johnson's first delivery of the day had reared to take the glove but looped fine of short leg. Collingwood wanted to be positive, which brought his downfall when he advanced at Beer and miscued his lofted drive towards mid-on where Hilfenhaus took a back-peddling catch.
It was a huge moment of relief for Beer who gave the umpire a quick look, just to make sure, and this time was able to celebrate his first Test wicket. At that point the match was fascinatingly poised but it was the last time Australia had any grip on proceedings. Now they face a mighty task to escape with a draw.
Alastair Cook's aggregate of 766 runs is the second highest by an England batsman in an Ashes series. The highest is Wally Hammond's 905 runs in 1928-29.
Cook's century was his third of the series, making it the 23rd occasion that a batsman has scored three or more hundreds in an Ashes series. The previous occasion that an England batsman achieved this was when Michael Vaughan scored three centuries in 2002-03.
The 154 run stand between Cook and Ian Bell is the fifth highest for the sixth wicket for a visiting team in Australia.
England have passed 400 in four of the five Tests so far, which is the second time that a visiting team has achieved the feat. The last time England scored more than 400 on at least four occasions in a Test series in Australia was in 1928-29.
Bell scored his first Ashes century in his 18th Test. He has now scored 11 half-centuries and one century at an average of 32.36.