LEEDS: England captain Joe Root restored a measure of batting pride for his side with an unbeaten 75 in the third Test at Headingley as Australia were denied an Ashes-clinching win inside three days on Saturday.
At stumps, England were 156-3, still needing a further 203 runs to reach a target of 359 made all the more imposing after they had collapsed to a woeful 67 all out in the first innings – their worst Ashes total for 71 years.
Their second innings threatened to go the same way at 15-2.
But Root, out for ducks in his previous two knocks, was still there at the close on his Yorkshire home ground after sharing a third-wicket partnership of 126 in 53 overs with the under-pressure Joe Denly (50).
Ben Stokes, determined to avoid giving his wicket away, was two not out off 50 balls.
An Australia victory would see the holders retain the Ashes at 2-0 up with two to play in a five-match series.
The odds were still in their favour but England now had an outside shot at a win that would rival their celebrated ‘500/1’ success of 1981 when they beat Australia at Headingley after following-on.
Character and fight
“We were disappointed with the 67 and it wasn’t good enough but it’s about showing character and fight in this second innings,” Denly told BBC Radio’s Test Match Special after stumps.
“I rate our chances very highly… The new ball will be tricky but a few of our batters are due some runs.”
But Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne, who fell short of a maiden Test century with 80, said: “We have the new ball due in eight overs which is good for us.
“We have got to stick to our process, shut that scoreboard down and challenge both edges of the bat ball in, ball out.
“If we do that I’ve no doubt we will win the match.”
Only three sides have made more than 300 to win in the fourth innings of a Test at Headingley – Australia (404-3 in 1948), England (315-4 against Australia, 2001) and the West Indies with 322-5 two years ago.
No one was consulting that page in the record books, though, when England slumped to 15-2 by losing two wickets for no runs in four balls.
Left-hander Rory Burns (seven) edged Pat Cummins to David Warner at first slip before Surrey team-mate Jason Roy (eight), yet to convince as a Test opener for all his World Cup heroics, was bowled playing down the wrong line for by Josh Hazlewood, who took 5-30 in the first innings.
Denly, the only England batsman to reach double figures in the first innings with 12, repeatedly played and missed either side of being hit on the head by a Cummins bouncer but hung on in there.
The more-assured Root cover-drove off-spinner Nathan Lyon, long a thorn in England’s side, for four to complete a 120-ball fifty.
Root had a brief scare on 59 when given out lbw to Hazlewood but the key batsman’s immediate review revealed a clear edge.
Denly’s single off Lyon saw him to fifty in 134 balls.
But when Hazlewood defied the increasingly slow pitch by getting a bouncer to lift, Denly was in no position to hook and gloved the ball to Australia captain and wicketkeeper Tim Paine, with England now 141-3.
Labuschagne stars again
Earlier, Labuschagne led Australia to 246 in their second innings.
It was his third successive fifty since becoming cricket’s inaugural concussion substitute in place of star batsman Steve Smith in the drawn second Test at Lord’s.
Labuschagne had made 60 when he was dropped for the third time in his innings by diving wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow and, as happened at Lord’s, was hit on the helmet grille by a Jofra Archer bouncer.
He was cleared to bat on but, with just the tail for company, ran himself out when, deceived by a misfield, he failed to beat Denly’s throw to Bairstow.
“I had a few chances out there,” said Labuschagne, whose 74 in the first innings was seven more than England managed between them.
“Luck can change very quickly and it was disappointing to be run out at the end.”