Monday 24 March 2008 

Strauss And Bell Centuries Leave England Well Clear

England 253 (Pietersen 129) & 416-6 (Strauss 173no, Bell 110) v
New Zealand 168 (Fleming 59, Sidebottom 7-47)

Three-match series level at 1-1

Long overdue centuries from Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell ensured that England closed day three of the decisive third Test against New Zealand some 501 runs ahead.

After bowling New Zealand out for 168 in reply to their 253, England closed on 416 for six, Strauss unbeaten on a career-best 173 after Bell hit 110.

Resuming on 91 for two, England enjoyed the first session of play in which there was nothing to help the seam bowlers, enabling Strauss to move to his fifty with another fine straight drive off of Chris Martin although it took him some 45 minutes to get the eight runs required with Kevin Pietersen taking the bulk of the early strike.

Just as Pietersen (34) was trying to move the score along he fell to a brilliant Ross Taylor slip catch off of Daniel Vettori - just Vettori's fourth wicket of the series as Pietersen was looking to work the ball on the onside. Both Vettori and Jeetan Patel bowled in tandem for an hour, but with little turn, Strauss and Bell used their feet well to nullify their threat.

Bell and Strauss added 187 for the third wicket, Strauss needing 226 balls for his century, Bell 150. The relief was palpable when Strauss drove Martin through the covers for his landmark after enduring a tough new ball spell. Bell, too, showed relief and delight in equal measure after hooking Martin for four for his seventh century.

Both men took advantage of conditions to end long runs without big scores, with Strauss looking to go on tomorrow and register a first ever double century before England, presumably, declare before lunch.

The partnership was finally broken by Vettori, who had Bell, who had played a number of eye-catching strokes, caught by Mathew Sinclair at mid-off and he was soon followed back by Paul Collingwood, caught and bowled by the New Zealand captain after a cameo of 22 from 19 balls which included a towering six over midwicket.

Strauss and Tim Ambrose, who remains unbeaten on 28 after being put down by Taylor early in his innings, added another half-century partnership after Collingwood's rather tame dismissal to push England's lead past the 500 mark.

There was time in the last hour of play for Strauss to move ahead of Hamish Marshall's mark of 160 as the highest Test score on the ground and Ambrose to survive a desperately close run out chance as everything went England's way.

Despite the benign nature of the pitch, there should only be one result from here on in unless the weather comes to New Zealand's rescue. New Zealand's highest successful run chase was 324 for five against Pakistan in 1994 and although they have passed 400 twice in fourth innings against England, neither match was won, and since the first innings in Hamilton, they have not been close to 400 in the series, which gives some indication of the task ahead of them.

� Cricket World 2008

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