Aussies in command despite Pietersen ton

Australia

England cherished the success of batsman Kevin Pietersen, who welcomed the 23rd century of his career, but were yet to avoid a potential follow-on – on day three of the third Ashes Test at Old Trafford in Manchester on Saturday.

England cherished the success of batsman Kevin Pietersen, who welcomed the 23rd century of his career, but were yet to avoid a potential follow-on – on day three of the third Ashes Test at Old Trafford in Manchester.

An outstanding 113 from Pietersen pushed the hosts to 294 for seven – 33 shy of leaving the decision in visiting captain Michael Clarke's hands and 200 more short of matching Australia's first-innings effort of 527 for seven.

Saturday's start offered the visitors great promise, with the out-of-form Jonathan Trott perishing for five to seamer Ryan Harris. While host skipper Alastair Cook quashed initial worry with a commanding 62, Pietersen and fellow right-hander Ian Bell later dispelled further alarm.

The pair were a picture of collective concentration during a fine 115-run alliance inside 37 overs. Where Bell cashed in through the covers, Pietersen took advantage down the ground, and together they had Clarke rotating his bowlers in the hope of eventual breakthrough.

Harris duly obliged, sniping some sharp lateral movement through Bell's defences in the 91st over. Dismissed for 60, the half-centurion would have hoped the young Jonny Bairstow would pick up where he left off.

Bairstow, alas, did not follow suit – instead fishing at some tempting length outside his off-stump from left-armer Mitchell Starc. Slip fielder Shane Watson was promptly at hand for the formalities.

The day's limelight, almost entirely, belonged to Pietersen. Surpassing the great Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey and Geoffrey Boycott – and now a mere two tons behind Cook on 25, the South African-born talisman was at his entertaining best.

Back-to-back sixes struck off spinner Nathan Lyon typified the audacity of his vigil, while superb manipulation of the seamers' line exemplified characteristic control. A dozen scintillating boundaries and <i>those</i> two sixes later, he had a near capacity crowd in collective ovation.

Dismissed lbw by Starc after missing a relatively straight delivery, Pietersen had chanced his arm by opting for a review. The on-field decision remained, though, as television replays promptly revealed a straightforward decision – as plumb as they come.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Matt Prior and all-rounder Stuart Broad saw out the rest of proceedings and, come day four, will be eager to lop off that needed to dismiss the follow-on.

Should they an the tail-enders, however, not succeed, Clarke will face a difficult decision: send England in again against a tired attack, or have a quick dart at the crease amid looming rain clouds.

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