Joe Root and Joe Denly showed some overdue application at the crease, guiding England to 90 for two as they attempted to keep their Ashes hopes alive by chasing down 359 in the third Test at Headingley.
The hosts took the last four Australian wickets for 75 on the third morning to set up a pursuit that would become a new English record if successful and looked even more distant given their hopeless 67 all out on Saturday.
Openers Rory Burns and Jason Roy both fell cheaply just after lunch but captain Root (41no) and Denly (30no) shared an unbroken stand of 75 leading up to tea.
England’s highest chase of 332 for seven dates back to 1928 but Leeds has more recent history for fourth-innings drama – with the West Indies hunting down 322 in 2017 and Mark Butcher leading his country to 315 in the 2001 Ashes.
It took just under 90 minutes to set up the final equation, with Australia 246 all out. Jofra Archer took two wickets to finish with a match haul of eight for 85, Ben Stokes got one reward for a tireless stint at the Football Stand End and top-scorer Marnus Labuschagne was finally run out for 80 after Jonny Bairstow’s drop reprieved him for the fourth time.
Burns and Roy successfully negotiated four overs before the break, the former sustaining a bloodied thumb for his trouble, before both succumbed for single-digit scores in the first 15 balls of the afternoon.
Burns has shown more grit and determination in the series than any of his top-order team-mates but had no answer to a short Josh Hazlewood ball that seamed sharply from leg to off and clipped the shoulder of the bat on its way to David Warner at slip.
Roy was next, undone by a masterful piece of bowling from Pat Cummins. Pitched full and fast, Roy attempted to offer the face of the bat, only for the ball to straighten off the pitch and re-route for off stump.
That took his tally at opener to 61 from seven attempts and a demotion – either down the order or out of the team – now seems inevitable.
Australia, surely, sniffed another rout and in Denly they appeared to have their next victim.
The 33-year-old attempted to leave his first ball only to leave the bat dangling behind him, picking up an unintentional four through the slips. Before long he was undergoing concussion testing, rapped on the front of the helmet by Cummins’ bouncer, and there was even a lurch towards the bizarre when the paceman appealed for lbw to a ball that Denly crouched into and took on the forearm.
Root was ticking along soundly at the other end, reaching double figures in 25 balls, and Denly slowly started to find his feet. There was still the occasional wild swish, and James Pattinson was unlucky to see the ball sail over gully off the batsman’s glove on 17, but he was undeniably settling.
When Hazlewood returned and dropped one short, Denly thrashed it for four. Runs came more easily as the session stretched out, with the first murmurings of optimism beginning to emerge from the crowd.