Ian Bell
Ian Bell's 95 has put England in a strong position [Reuters].

Ian Bell was England's hero as they wrested back control of the first Ashes test at Trent Bridge.

Bell made an unbeaten 95 as England hit 326-6, ensuring an intimidating lead of 261 going into the fourth day.

Enjoying easily their best day of the test thus far, England lost just four wickets as the batsmen, led by Bell, provided a masterclass in obduracy in conditions that suited both swing and spin.

Ashton Agar, who lit up Thursday's play with the highest-ever score by a number 11 on debut, had a far tougher time with ball in hand, despite picking up the crucial wicket of Alastair Cook.

The left-arm spinner was expected to carry Australia's main threat on a dry pitch but managed just two wickets in 35 overs and was denied a further scalp when Stuart Broad edged behind late in the day.

Having nicked a flighted delivery from Agar to slip via wicketkeeper Brad Haddin's gloves, Broad was given not out by umpire Dharmasena - and then caused consternation among the Australian fielders by refusing to walk.

The incident was greeted with scorn by the television commentators, and is sure to spark further controversy.

Broad back to full fitness

Resuming on 80-2, England built steadily in the morning session, with Cook accumulating slowly and Kevin Pietersen looking to dominate.

However, when Pietersen dragged on a wide delivery from James Pattinson with the score at 121, Australia sensed an opening - and they gained further encouragement shortly afterwards when Cook got a bottom edge to Agar and Michael Clarke took a wonderful catch at slip.

Jonny Bairstow managed 15 before edging a good delivery from Agar to Haddin, but a perky innings of 31 from Matt Prior frustrated the visiting bowlers.

When Prior was caught off a miscued pull at midwicket, the game was back in the balance - but an unbroken stand of 108 between Bell and Broad put England in control.

With Broad back to full fitness, and Graeme Swann raring to test the Australian batsmen on a turning pitch, England will believe they already have a match-winning lead.

For Australia, after Agar's heroics on Thursday, there is sure to be anxiety - coupled with lingering rancour after Broad's defiant gesture.