England attempted to rub Australia's collective nose in the Ashes dust today as they launched their final assault on victory in the second Test. Instead of declaring at their overnight total, the tourists continued their first innings into a fourth day.
A swashbuckling 41 minutes of batting yielded 69 runs and took their total to 620 for 5, a lead of 375. Although England lost Kevin Pietersen for a career best 227 just as he was threatening to lay waste – further waste, that is – to Australia's forlorn bowling attack, they were still utterly dominant.
Pietersen went to the second ball of the day's fourth over immediately after he had struck Xavier Doherty ferociously to the mid-wicket boundary. Attempting to repeat the feat, the ball turned, took the edge of his bat and was caught at slip by Simon Katich. It ended a comeback innings of breathtaking intent and containing 33 fours and a six after a little over seven hours.
Bell serenely hit Doherty over long on for six, a shot which exuded class and timing and was still a candidate for shot of the innings in a total full of them. Matt Prior was equally bustling and after surviving an lbw verdict on review did exactly as England required.
The expected declaration meant that Bell continues to wait for his first hundred against Australia but has now made 10 fifties in 27 innings. His undefeated 68 took him past 4,000 runs in Test matches and 12,000 first-class runs.
It was England's highest total for 20 years since they made 653 for 4 against India at Lord's. More pertinently perhaps it was their highest total in Australia since the team with Wally Hammond as its star made 636 in Sydney in 1928. It was also the biggest first-innings lead of any touring side in Australia since England had an advantage of 377 runs at Melbourne in 1975 and went on to win by an innings.
With such an advantage it was natural for England to go on the attack immediately and they began with three slips and two gullies. Australia, however, came out clearly determined not to fold quietly. Jimmy Anderson could not find the testing length of the first innings and both Australian openers were quick to drive half volleys to the boundary.
Katich, who had been run out before facing a ball in the first innings, was quickly off the mark although he was in severe discomfort caused by swelling around his left achilles. He top edged one pull stroke but it fell safely between two fielders.
With turn in the pitch, England used Graeme Swann as early as the 10th over of the innings but the early wicket that might have provoked the swift collapse of Australia proved elusive. Shane Watson drove a ball from Swann just wide of a diving Andrew Strauss at short mid-wicket and might have had Katich and Watson out in successive balls as they miscued spinning balls.