Ian Bell carved himself a place in Ashes history with his third century of the series and transformed England's position from flimsy to something approaching formidable in an increasingly absorbing fourth Test in Chester-le-Street.
Bell's unbeaten 105, which steered his team away from deep trouble in their second innings at 49 for three, with a lead of only 17, to a far healthier 234 for five – now 202 ahead – made him only the third England batsman to score three centuries in a home Ashes series, after Maurice Leyland in 1934 and David Gower in 1985.
He also became only the ninth England batsman to score 20 Test centuries, following Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook into that exclusive club, as he continued his late-flowering purple patch against Australia.
After playing 30 Ashes innings without reaching three figures, he has now done so four times in his last nine, having broken his duck when England sealed the last series in Sydney in January 2011.
"I've had to work very hard in this series, so it's been enjoyable to score hundreds and maybe put to bed some of the stuff from the past," said Bell, who has come so far since Shane Warne mocked him as the Shermanator in 2005.
"I always believed I was good enough to score Test hundreds against Australia. It did take a while, but my first two series were against one of the best teams of all time. As a young player that was a hell of a baptism, and I learned a lot.
"This is right up there," the 31-year-old added, when asked if he is in the form of his life. "But I haven't thought about it like that, to be honest. The important thing to us as a group is winning the Ashes. We've done decently so far, but I still think this will be a scrap over the next two days.
"I'd rather have the 200 runs on the board than have to chase them. But we've seen already with Australia, they go all the way.
"The pitch at Trent Bridge [in the first Test, when Bell's century proved decisive] didn't deteriorate as we thought it might, so maybe this won't either. But there's certainly a bit of uneven bounce. At Durham it doesn't always jag around like you might think. It might do nothing for a while, but then one ball might bounce a bit more or hit a crack and go sideways.
"Getting that lead up towards 300 is the important thing, the individual stuff is irrelevant. I'll think about that when I've finished my cricket."
Bell received crucial support from Pietersen and Jonny Bairstow to put England back on course for the win they need to secure the series.
Despite polishing off the last five wickets in Australia's first innings for 48, to restrict their lead to 32, England were thrust on to the back foot by a superb new-ball spell from Ryan Harris, who dismissed Cook, Joe Root and Jonathan Trott cheaply, and later caused Bell his only obvious discomfort with a bouncer that struck him on the glove and left him sprawling on the ground.
"He's been outstanding all the way through this series," Bell said of Harris. He also praised Bairstow and Pietersen, with whom he has now shared 10 century partnerships in Test cricket.
Australia's task in securing the win they need to maintain a chance of avoiding a third consecutive Ashes series defeat will be made tougher by an injury suffered by Shane Watson, who pulled up after three balls of his seventh over with a hip and groin problem.
"Hopefully it's not as bad as we first thought," said Harris, although Watson seems highly unlikely to be available to bowl again.
There is further statistical encouragement for England in the fact they have never lost a Test in which Bell has scored a century.
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