Ian Bell’s third hundred in successive Ashes Tests underpinned England’s partial recovery from their false start on an eventful first day at Lord’s.
Bell first took guard with the hosts 28 for three after both openers had gone lbw and Kevin Pietersen caught-behind, as Ryan Harris (three for 43) took two wickets in the same over.
As at Trent Bridge last week, where he also scored 109, Bell once again barely played a false shot.
But after Steve Smith (three for 18) kick-started a second rush of wickets with his occasional leg-breaks deep into the evening session, England’s 289 for seven was still under-par on a blameless surface in this second Ashes Test.
Bell completed his five-hour hundred in a 144-run fifth-wicket stand with Jonny Bairstow (67), having first added 99 for the fourth with Jonathan Trott (58).
By the time he fell in Smith’s first over, caught at slip pushing forward to one that turned and bounced from a perfect length, Bell had added a century here to the ones he made in the last two Tests against Australia — at Sydney in 2010/11 and then in Nottingham.
After winning the toss on a glorious morning, Alastair Cook, Joe Root and Pietersen departed in the space of 11 balls.
Much was then needed from Warwickshire pair Bell and Trott and they responded with an assured partnership either side of lunch as the ball continued to swing, Trott looking set for plenty more after completing his half-century until he mistimed a pull at Harris to deep midwicket.
Bairstow was not especially convincing as Bell nursed him through the early stages of an innings which appeared to have foundered when the number six missed an attempted drive at Peter Siddle and was bowled off-stump.
Bairstow on 21, and England on what would have been 172 for five, were reprieved because the third umpire spotted a no-ball — and he was therefore still around to accompany Bell past his highly-skilled 203-ball hundred.
It seemed Siddle’s over-step would prove an especially costly turning point — until skipper Michael Clarke chanced another Midas-touch bowling change.
The second new ball was apparently only minutes away when Smith was called into the attack for the 77th over, and struck a huge blow almost immediately.
It was a deserving delivery which did for Bell, but Bairstow gave away his hard work when he pushed a low full-toss straight back into the leg-spinner’s hands.
Matt Prior then edged an attempted cut behind off Smith, and it was tempting to conclude that — despite another Bell masterclass — the advantage was Australia’s.
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