Ashes 3rd Test, Day 4: Cook stalls Australia's push for Ashes win

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England were given a bright glimpse into the future with Alastair Cook heading a golden trio of talent determined not to relinquish ownership of the Ashes without a fight.

The 21-year-old Essex batsman spearheaded a defiant display by the tourists which at least took the third Test into the final day.



Resuming the fourth day trailing by a massive 537 on 19 for one, expectations were high of England repeating their capitulation from Adelaide and slipping to defeat in the third Test and the series.



But instead of collapsing, England frustrated Australia for most of the day with Cook leading their defiance with a determined 116 to become the youngest England batsman in history to score four Test centuries.



He teamed up to forge a crucial 178-run stand with 24-year-old Ian Bell and then added a further 76 with 26-year-old Kevin Pietersen and guided the tourists to within two overs of a comfortable position.



But just as England began to consider the unthinkable - being the first side in history to successfully chase down a victory target of 557 - Cook and nightwatchman Matthew Hoggard fell in the space of three balls just two overs before the close to leave them struggling on 265 for five.



It was a bitter blow to England's hopes of saving the Test, but the contributions of three players expected to form the nucleus of the side for some years to come will have more than encouraged the selectors.



Cook has played just 12 Tests and already has four centuries to his name, Pietersen has made an even more impressive impact in only two years and Bell has overcome a lean 2005 Ashes series to score his third half-century of this campaign.



Indeed it was Bell who kick-started England's innings when they resumed the fourth day, taking it upon himself to play positively even against legendary leg-spinner Shane Warne.



Bell hit him for a four and a six in his first over of the day and appeared well set for a deserved first Ashes century having overcome a reprieve on 73 when he edged Brett Lee behind only for wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist to drop the chance.



He added 14 runs more before Warne finally claimed his scalp, outwitting him in the flight and tempting him into a gentle drive to short extra cover, but by then he had hit two sixes and his positive gameplan had convinced Australia they were facing an improved Ian Bell to the one they encountered 15 months ago.



"He's a different batsman to the one we encountered in 2005," admitted seamer Glenn McGrath, who removed Cook and Hoggard shortly before the close. "Warney had it all over him during the last series and I always felt you could knock him over bowling to him.



"He's matured a lot and got a lot of confidence from the way he's played in the last 12 months.



"He showed today in the way he was prepared to come down the wicket to Shane and he's not sitting back and waiting for something to happen, he's happy to take it to him - he's come a long way and it's looking good for England in the future."



McGrath could easily have said the same about Cook, who has looked accomplished previously in the series without getting the runs to underline his vast talent.



Today may not have been his best innings for England and he also received a reprieve when he was dropped on 83 after edging Warne to Matthew Hayden at slip.



That close shave was one of a number of yelps and cries from Warne in addition to countless appeals to umpire Rudi Koertzen, which must have put him on the verge of disciplinary action for over-stepping the Code of Conduct.



But Warne was at least gracious enough to acknowledge Cook's six and a half hours of defiance when he finally stole a single off him to square leg to bring up the landmark by shaking his hand.



"That is the way the Aussies play their cricket," said Cook. "They play it tough but if someone does well they offer their congratulations.



"They've been very good like that. There was a little bit of banter when I was on 99, but nothing too extraordinary.



"Shane always thinks he's unlucky, doesn't he? It's a theatre with him, but he's a good bowler and anyone who has taken nearly 700 wickets you can't take lightly.



"He's bowled very well, but once he's let go of the ball you try to ignore that it's Shane Warne and just to try and watch the ball."



Perhaps his greatest achievement in incredibly humid temperatures was his ability to adapt to his partner, immediately linking up impressively with Pietersen after Paul Collingwood fell cheaply by edging Stuart Clark behind.



Pietersen immediately took the lion's share of the strike and advanced quickly to an unbeaten 37 which appeared to have halted Australia's push for victory, at least for the day, until McGrath ran in just two overs before the close.



Cook's defiance was ended when he pushed forward and edged behind and two balls later Hoggard's off-stump was removed with an outstanding yorker to finish the day on a sour note even if the future looks bright.



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