Captain Joe Root carried England’s hopes of keeping the Ashes alive as he dug deep in pursuit of a record fourth-innings chase on day three at Headingley.
Australia set the winning line at a distant 359 in the third Specsavers Test – 27 more than any other England side has ever managed – and hoped to reopen the fault lines that saw the hosts skittled for a paltry 67 on Saturday.
England might have been suffering from deja vu at 15 for two but Root showed steel, determination and leadership as he reached 75 not out in a stumps total of 156 for three.
Root arrived at the crease having failed to score in each of his last two knocks but channelled the old-fashioned virtues that his side have too frequently neglected as he dropped anchor for five hours and 189 deliveries.
His primary foil was Joe Denly, who survived an uncomfortable start to his innings to make 50 in a vital third-wicket stand worth 125, and Root will begin again on day four with alongside his deputy, Ben Stokes, with England needing another 203 on day four.
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Hear, hear. Fears of another batting horror show would have been heightened after England lost Rory Burns and Jason Roy early in their pursuit of 359 but Root and Denly showed admirable resolve, largely eschewing more ambitious strokes in favour of the application many were crying out for after posting a wretched 67 all out the previous day.
Denly was potentially batting for his Test future on Saturday. With an average of 22 heading into the fourth innings, the Kent batsman rode his luck but showed no lack of discipline and fortitude in the face of some hostile Australian bowling. Whether a knock of 50 will be enough to retain his place remains to be seen but a 126-run stand with Root has given England a glimmer of hope.
England’s dire batting on the second day led to a situation where even Monty Panesar – who spent the majority of his international career at number 11, averaging 4.88 – was chipping in with advice. Tips from the former left-arm spinner on his Twitter channel included leaving the ball outside off-stump and becoming more top-hand dominant.
A century, at last, for Root
Root’s defiant innings kept the Test, and indeed the series, alive for at least another day. He will look to swell his overnight 75 not out but he made it to three figures in another facet on Saturday. By pouching James Pattinson, the Yorkshireman became only the ninth English outfielder to reach the landmark of 100 Test catches.
Whether seeking to make amends for a rash shot in the first innings or simply because England were in a hole, Stokes flogged himself into the ground on Friday evening and Saturday morning. Either side of four balls from Jofra Archer, Stokes bowled unchanged at the Football Stand end for 24.2 overs, barely allowing his pace to drop en route to figures of three for 56. He later showed remarkable self-control with the bat, registering just two not out from 50 balls as he and Root repelled everything Australia threw at them in the final hour.
Jason Roy has been susceptible to brain fades in this series but there was little he could do after being beaten all ends up by an 88.1mph jaffa from Pat Cummins, the top-ranked bowler in the world. The delivery straightened just enough for the England opener to play down the wrong line before going on to clip the top of off-stump.
August 25: England v Australia, day four of the third Ashes Test, Headingley.