Cheating row mars England's Ashes march

Alastair Cook and Ian Bell were both beset by moments of controversy on their way to the hundreds which put England within sight of Ashes history.

Cook's 189 took his series tally to 766 - Wally Hammond is the only Englishman to have made more in an Ashes campaign - and Bell's 115 is his first century against Australia, something he has craved throughout his career.

Their innings put England in control of the final Test at the SCG, on 488 for seven for a lead of 208 with two days to go in a match they need only draw to win the Ashes outright down under for the first time in 24 years.

Yet Cook and Bell's survival, on 99 and 67 respectively when video technology was required to rule on contentious catches, meant claims and denials of cheating unfairly deflected attention from two outstanding performances.

Cook stood his ground when it was unclear whether Phil Hughes had gathered a catch cleanly at short-leg off Michael Beer, and replays satisfied the umpires he was right to do so.

In Bell's case, he called for DRS evidence after being given out caught behind by Aleem Dar off Shane Watson - a decision which was overturned when 'Hotspot' failed to provide compelling evidence of an inside edge.

'Snicko', acknowledged as a less robust - and slower - scientific simulation, suggested too late that there was an edge after all.

It fell to stand-in Australia captain Michael Clarke to respond at close of play to the suggestion by former England all-rounder Ian Botham, in his guise as a broadcast commentator, that Hughes had cheated by claiming the catch off Cook.

"I can guarantee one thing - Phillip Hughes is not a cheat, that's for sure," said Clarke.

"He's a wonderful young guy.

"The end result was spot on. Hughesy wasn't sure; [wicketkeeper Brad] Haddin wasn't sure; we made it clear to the umpires; the umpires referred the catch, checked it.

"I haven't seen the replay, but it must have come up clear that the ball bounced - so it was the right result.

"That's a bit harsh for Ian to say that about Phillip - he's not that sort of guy."

Bell followed Cook to his hundred by mid-evening, but his milestone was greeted by Australian boos as well as English cheers in the crowd - an unfortunate reaction, emanating from those convinced he knew he had edged behind an hour earlier.

Clarke was not among them.

"I don't think Ian Bell is a cheat at all.

"We thought there was an inside edge; we appealed that; it was referred.

"Technology says Ian didn't hit the ball."

Bell, whose hundred came up during a three-figure stand with Matt Prior (54no), also survived a tough caught-and-bowled chance put down by Steve Smith on 84.

His 232-ball innings, ended by an edge to slip off Mitchell Johnson (three for 97), was a mere cameo compared with the 488-minute stay which took Cook's occupation of the crease to more than 36 hours in this series.

The pair began a crucial 154-run sixth-wicket partnership at a time when the match was still in the balance.

For Cook, who started the winter under pressure and with single-figure scores in his first two attempts against Western Australia, a first-class tally of more than 1,000 runs since then is astounding.

"I could only have dreamt about it six or seven weeks ago, especially after that first warm-up game," said the opener.

"I didn't get any runs, and this looked a long way away.

"I can't really believe what I've achieved and what the side has achieved."

Cook gave composed versions of his and Bell's close calls, absolving all of blame and broadly in praise of the technology available.

Of his own incident, he recalled: "It was very close - and to be fair to Phil Hughes, he said straightaway 'I wasn't sure'.

"Obviously I was going to hang around on 99 - you have to be dragged off - so they went upstairs, and I think the right decision was made.

"If Belly had honestly thought he'd nicked it, I can't see him standing - because then you look quite foolish when you've nicked it and 'referred' it.

"I don't think any players are trying to bluff technology; you could end up on your face quite quickly."

Bell told a similar tale.

Asked if he had hit the ball, he said: "I don't know. That's why I used the review.

"Matt Prior was pretty confident I didn't hit it. That's why the system's there.

"I wasn't 100% sure that I had or hadn't.

"There possibly was a noise, but I didn't feel anything on the bat."

That is 'fair dinkum', according to Clarke.

"Sometimes you can't (tell if you've hit it), and I would find it very hard to believe anybody would refer a decision if they hit it," he agreed.

Either way, Bell had very good reason for pride and satisfaction tonight.

"It means everything," he said.

"I've had a pretty tough time against Australia.

"Earlier in my career I was pretty much outdone by Australia."

The same might be said for one or two of his team-mates - but not any more.

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