England’s batsmen showed some much-needed fight on day three of the third Test, but Australia still look set to retain the Ashes at Headingley.
Set 359 – an England record – to win, the home side battled to 156-3 thanks to 75 not out from Joe Root and Joe Denly’s 50.
They repelled the constant threat of the Australia attack with bravery, solid defence and patience – all of the things England were missing when they were bowled out for 67 on Friday.
Root and Denly’s partnership of 126 dragged England from 15-2, when they were in danger of subsiding once more on a glorious day in Leeds.
Australia earlier moved their overnight 171-6 to 246 all out, with Marnus Labuschagne run out for 80.
The tourists’ bowling was excellent, yet largely unrewarded and, even though England are in a position from where they could pull off an incredible victory, history is on Australia’s side.
However, Headingley is the ground where Australia once successfully pursued 404 and, only two years ago, West Indies knocked off 322.
If England were to pull off the chase and level the series, it would rank alongside Sir Ian Botham’s heroics here in 1981 as one of their greatest Ashes wins.
If the frustration of the first-innings capitulation was over a golden opportunity to square the series apparently going begging, it was compounded by England showing they are capable of proper Test batting.
Saturday was everything Friday should have been: England defying the Australia bowling, making steady progress on a good batting pitch in warm sunshine.
The Headingley crowd lapped it up, perhaps even keener to see England bat well because of the awful showing on day two.
Forward defensive strokes were applauded, edges through the slips were roared and England reaching 100 was given a standing ovation.
Just as Australia were starting to show signs of desperation, their persistence was rewarded by Denly gloving a Josh Hazlewood bouncer behind.
Ben Stokes, who survived 50 balls for his two not out, calmly helped Root to the close and England do have batting to come, but any bid for history will first have to overcome the second new ball, which is due eight overs into Sunday morning.
Root and Denly repel Australia
When Rory Burns edged Hazlewood to slip and Jason Roy was bowled by a wonderful delivery from Pat Cummins, England were two down just after lunch and in danger of losing in three days.
That they did not was down to Root and Denly, who responded to the pressure on their shoulders – Root over his position as captain, Denly for his place in the side – by restoring some pride into the England batting line-up.
At first, the progress was painstaking. Every delivery was full of danger. There were edges and play-and-misses. Denly was struck on the head, arm and twice almost gloved short balls to fielders.
Gradually, batting became easier. Root scored square of the wicket on both sides, while Denly played attractive pushes down the ground.
Root was given out lbw to Hazlewood on 59, only for a review to show a clear inside edge.
However, when the same bowler produced a brute of a bouncer directed at Denly’s chin, he could only punch it to wicketkeeper Tim Paine.
Australia edge closer to the urn
Given how meekly England surrendered on Friday, Australia would have been forgiven for thinking that another capitulation was in the offing on Saturday.
Their failure to wrap up victory was no slight on the bowling attack, in particular the three pace bowlers – Hazlewood, Cummins and James Pattinson – who examined England’s defensive technique with line and length or tested their mettle with hostile bouncers.
The push for victory came after they added 75 runs in the morning, Labuschagne moving his seventh-wicket partnership with Pattinson to 51.
Labuschagne was dropped by a diving Jonny Bairstow on 60 – his fourth reprieve – before he was peppered with short balls from Jofra Archer, fit following a bout of cramp on Friday evening.
It was Archer who had Pattinson caught at first slip and last man Nathan Lyon chop on. In between, the tireless Stokes got Cummins to fend to gully and Labuschagne failed to beat Denly’s throw from deep point when coming back for a second run.
The last four wickets fell for 31 runs in 7.3 overs, a contrast to the and absorbing battle that would follow.
England’s Joe Denly on BBC Test Match Special: “The 67 wasn’t good enough but it’s about showing character and fight in this second innings.
“We believe. If we get one or two more partnerships tomorrow, we’re in with a real shout. I rate our chances very highly – there are not too many demons in the pitch.”
England’s record Test run-scorer Alastair Cook: “The frustration has been that that collapse happens too often with England and it has cost them dearly in the past.
“There is the chance that they might get away with it in this game. That partnership was gutsy, it was brave and it has given England a sniff of a chance.”
Former England captain Michael Vaughan: “Why didn’t England do that in the first innings? If it needs criticism to fire them up to play the right way, I’ll criticise them all the time.
“You’ve got to put the hard yards in and England did that today. But I feel yesterday’s batting will still cost them this Test.”
Australia batsman Marnus Labuschagne: “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.”
Former Australia pace bowler Glenn McGrath: “England have a chance. This is the partnership – Ben Stokes and Joe Root – who have to do the bulk of the work.
“But Australia know all it takes is a couple of early wickets tomorrow and it can all change quickly. It takes a long time to tick the scoreboard over.”
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