Ashes 2013: Ian Bell and Stuart Broad steady the ship as England build decent target

Bell on verge of century at close of play on Day Three of the first Test

At this rate, the world supply of seat edges will shortly be under threat. From first ball to last on Day Three of the First Test of the Ashes twisted and turned excruciatingly on its enthralling path to a denouement which may be unbearable.

Only late on the third day did this gripping match appear finally to have turned England's way in a fashion that might have broken Australia's spirit and will certainly determine the manner in which this series will now be conducted. Slowly, unsurely the home side had built on their lead, led improbably by Ian Bell's resilient, magisterial innings of 95no, but the tourists had never quite let them out of sight.

By the time Bell and Stuart Broad had taken their crucial seventh wicket partnership to 81 late in the day, Australia urgently needed a wicket. The deficit was 236 runs, it was reaching the stage where England were again, perhaps for the third or fourth time, on the verge of creating a position that was unbreachable.

And then, Ashton Agar, the 19-year-old Victorian debutant for whom life is at present a bowl of cherries, conjured one out of the rough to Broad. It took the outside edge of the left hander's bat, flew off the glove and thigh of the wicketkeeper Brad Haddin and looped to Michael Clarke at slip.

Australia leapt in overjoyed unison. Broad meanwhile gave that look which suggests that butter would not melt in his mouth - easy enough with his boy band face - and got on with his business while the umpire Aleem Dar, the best in the world not long ago, turned down the appeal. For a moment it looked as though Australia would lay siege to him but though visibly angry, they restricted themselves to desperate imploring.

Clarke, their captain, made the motion for a review but to no avail since his side has used both their permitted requests, the second a particularly wasteful referral for an lbw against Jonny Bairstow. Dar saw no need to seek additional guidance and the match continued.

In the next over Haddin failed to pouch a difficult low chance to his right, offered by Bell swatting at Siddle, perhaps also affected by the dispute. It may be too early so suggest that the series was won and lost in this period. England had their own misfortune the previous day when Agar, on his way to 98, was ruled not out stumped on six when his foot seemed patently not to be over the line.

But it is safe to presume that Australia felt hard done by then at a significant moment and that they will not be dashing for the pavilion any time soon should they happen to hit the cover off the ball. Their bitterness did not subside and the fast bowler, James Pattinson, may find himself up before the beak for an over-zealous appeal for lbw against Bell near the close.

In its way, an additional touch of controversy was precisely what befitted this stupendous tie. The pitch was dry and slow. Runs and wickets had to be prised out of it.  Bell, of all people, did much of the important prising, virtuously denying himself throughout a long, hot vigil. There was one vintage cover drive early in the piece but otherwise his chief scoring asset was the delicate late dab and cut.

He left the ball gloriously and used the review system judiciously when he was 34 and adjudged lbw to Shane Watson. At this stage the ball was reverse swinging almost manically and a wicket then might have had Australia all over England.

Replays showed the ball was narrowly missing leg stump and Bell was spared.

The third day of this gripping match, sponsored by Investec, was cut from a different cloth than the two which went before. Then it was the non-stop action and the unfathomable clatter of wickets which made the affair so absorbing, now it was the relative calm that gripped.

It was impossible to relax, on occasion it was difficult to draw breath given the potent mixture tension and the claustrophobic humidity of a high summer's day. England, 261 ahead, with four wickets in hand are now favourites to prevail.

The conditions encouraged reverse swing and allowed spinners to ply their trade with optimism, which is not the norm at Trent Bridge. In the initial stages it seemed that everything for England would hinge on the overnight partnership of Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen.

For an hour they could no little wrong and it was beginning to seem that Pietersen would stamp his mark and authority and proceedings as was his destiny. Cook simply played the percentages. They had been here before doing this, the last time in Mumbai late last year when England won an epic victory.

When the ball began to go Irish, as the Australians put it, there was the suspicion that something had to happen quickly. It did. Pietersen, after striking 12 fours in his 64, played a forcing shot against Pattinson which rattled into his stumps off an inside edge.

Ten runs later, Cook pushed forward with a crooked bat to Agar and was undone by the ball rushing on out of the rough. Clarke took a wonderful catch leaping high to his left. It was a stunning grab in anybody's language, for a man with a chronic back condition it was almost miraculous.

Australia were in the ascendancy then but Bell and Jonny Bairstow repelled them just long enough to ensure England were not overwhelmed. Soon after, Bairstow was caught behind off Agar, Australia decided to take the second new ball.

It was the wrong move. It allowed Matt Prior just enough latitude to play his instinctive attacking game and though he was out pulling to mid-wicket, perhaps being too aggressive for the circumstance, England led by 153. Broad played with good sense and was frequently in consultation with Bell. They survived to the end, courtesy of Dar. The last has not been heard of it. The Ashes remain ablaze.

Sport
The sun rises over St Andrews golf course, but will it be a new dawn for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club?
sportAnd it's Yes to women (at the R&A)
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
footballToure's lack of defensive work is big problem for City
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week