Ian Bell rated his century his "best Ashes innings" after helping England into a strong position going into the final day at Trent Bridge.

Bell, playing his fifth Ashes series, contributed 109 to help set Australia a target of 311 to win the first Investec Test. While it was Bell's second successive century in Ashes Tests - he also made one at Sydney in early 2011 - he admitted that the context of this game, coming when his side were under pressure and helping to set-up a match-defining position, rendered it his most valuable and satisfying.

His record in Ashes cricket has been modest. Going into this series he averaged 32.36 against Australia in 18 Tests. But, crediting the benefits of recent experiences in subcontinental conditions, he negated a slow, low pitch and an attack generating reverse swing to steer his side from a precarious position to one of some dominance. England were only 66 runs ahead when they lost their fourth wicket but, by the time Bell departed, the lead had been stretched to 306. On a surface on which no Test side has ever scored 300 to win a Test, it was a vital contribution.

"Certainly it's my best Ashes innings," Bell said. "It was nice to put an innings together when the team needed it most.

"The wicket was pretty slow, obviously reverse swing has played a massive part in this game so to use my skills to get us a decent lead on this pitch is very satisfying.

"This wicket is quite close to a subcontinent wicket. I've played a lot of subcontinent cricket in last 12 or 18 months, so batting in such conditions is something we've had to work out.

"I was disappointed with my performance in my first Ashes series [in 2005 when Bell averaged only 17.10] when I was a young lad. I always wanted to score as many runs as possible. You want to win Ashes series and be part of successful teams. But it's not all about individual stuff; it's about being part of a team."

That team ethic was apparent as England weathered an early storm from Australia's batsmen to hit back strongly in the final session on day four. Shane Watson and Chris Rogers, feasting on some loose bowling, posted an opening stand of 84 to make deep inroads into their target. Graeme Swann took a long time to settle, delivering several full tosses and short balls, while Steven Finn's first spell, peppered with short balls outside off stump, was horrible. It necessitated his captain posting a sweeper on the cover boundary which, in turn, led to a gap in the close off-side field that allowed the batsmen to pick of singles with dispiriting ease.

Both recovered admirably, though. Finn returned for a much tighter spell, helping sustain the pressure built up by his colleagues and, once Swann had taken his first wicket, in his 23rd over, he settled into a much more penetrative rhythm.

It was still a slightly frustrating day for Swann. Playing on his home ground and on such a dry surface, the expectations upon him may have been unrealistically high. Although he found turn, it was often too slow to unduly trouble the batsman and, perhaps in frustration, Swann attempted to force matters and failed to show the requisite patience for such a context. He adapted, though, and produced a beautiful delivery to account for Phil Hughes.

The pick of the bowlers, by some distance, was Stuart Broad. Perhaps buoyed with confidence by his performance with the bat, Broad bowled at a sharp pace, generated some reverse swing to account for Shane Watson and maintained a probing line and length that eventually drew a false shot from Michael Clarke. Certainly Broad appeared unaffected by the furore surrounding his decision not to walk on the third day and proved he has fully recovered from the recent blows he has taken to his right shoulder.

"Australia played very well when they first came out and we maybe didn't bowl to the standards we'd like," Bell admitted.

"But we reassessed at tea. We came out with a plan to be very accurate and maybe a little more defensive with field settings. This is the type of wicket that, if two guys get in, then it's hard to get them out. We wanted to keep the run rate down and create pressure. We got wickets at the end due to really accurate bowling. We're happy with how patient we were.

"Our bowlers have been good at adapting to the conditions. They're not just guys who run up on green seaming wickets and take wickets. They take wickets in all surfaces. They've learned to adapt. That's why guys like Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad have done so well in the last few years.

"I've played too much Ashes cricket to take anything for granted. They have two guys at the crease who are dangerous players. We have to get them early in the morning. It is going to be a big first hour for both teams."