Cook played an opener's innings to keep England's score ticking over [GALLO/GETTY]
England's under-pressure opener Alastair Cook kept a cool head to grind out a vital century and put his side into a commanding position going into day four of the second Test against South Africa.

Cook, who had failed to score more than 32 in his previous eight innings, put on 142 for the fourth wicket with Paul Collingwood, who fell just short of his ton with 91.

Opening batsman Cook made 118 before he was out as England reached 386 for five at the close, a first innings lead of 43.

South Africa failed to take a wicket between lunch and tea as they toiled in the Durban sun, which shone after two days of curtailments for bad light and rain.

Bell strikes fifty

It was slow going for the most part against disciplined bowling but Ian Bell gave the innings impetus after tea as he hurried to a stroke-filled half-century off 65 balls.

Day three scorecard

South Africa first innings 343 
England first innings (o/n 103-1)

A Strauss b Morkel 54
A Cook c Kallis b Morkel 118
J Trott c Boucher b Morkel 18
K Pietersen lbw b Harris 31
P Collingwood c Boucher b Duminy 91
I Bell not out 55
M Prior not out 11
Extras 8

Total (for 5; 123 overs) 386
FoW 1-71 2-104 3-155 4-297 5-365

Bell, who like Cook had been under pressure to make runs, finished the day on 55 not out.

Tall fast bowler Morne Morkel was easily South Africa's best bowler, taking three for 69.

Although his teammates plugged away on an easy-paced pitch, Morkel was the only bowler who consistently looked likely to take wickets.

For the first time in the match, there was a full day's play under a cloudless sky, with 283 runs scored in 96.4 overs for the loss of four wickets.

The left-handed Cook batted solidly to reach a half-century off 136 balls and his tenth Test century off 218 deliveries.

Good reviews

Cook made a successful use of the review system after umpire Amish Saheba gave him out caught at short leg off off-spinner JP Duminy when he was on 64.

Television umpire Steve Davis ruled that the ball had not touched the bat before bouncing off the batsman's pad to Hashim Amla.

South Africa's bowlers gave a much-improved performance in the two-and-a-half hours played before lunch, taking two wickets and conceding only 87 runs in 33.4 overs.

But Cook and Collingwood were largely untroubled between lunch and tea, even when South African captain Graeme Smith called for the second new ball when the total was on 262 for three after 81 overs.

Morne Morkel struck an early blow for the host nation when he had Jonathan Trott caught behind for 18 off the seventh ball of the morning.

Kevin Pietersen survived a dropped catch at slip off left-arm spinner Paul Harris when he was on 20 but fell to the same bowler for 31 when he missed a sweep and was leg before wicket.

There was no more success for the South Africans until Cook edged Morkel to second slip in the fifth over after tea after batting for 401 minutes, facing 263 balls and hitting 11 fours.

Collingwood looked set for a century and it was a surprise when he fell nine runs short, caught off a bottom edge by wicketkeeper Mark Boucher off Duminy after facing 215 balls and hitting seven fours.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies