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 after a third-wicket stand of 126 in 53 overs with Joe Denly (50).
Ben Stokes was two not out from 50 deliveries.
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.
Only three sides, however, 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 teammate Jason Roy, yet to convince as a Test match opener for all his World Cup heroics, was bowled playing down the wrong line to 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 acclaimed by the Yorkshireman’s adoring public.
Root had a brief scare on 59 when given out lbw to Hazlewood but his immediate review revealed a clear edge which had somehow escaped the attention of New Zealand umpire Chris Gaffaney.
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, Marnus Labuschagne missed out on a maiden Test hundred as he top-scored with 80 in Australia’s second-innings 246.
It was his third successive fifty since becoming world cricket’s inaugural concussion substitute in place of star batsman Steve Smith in the drawn second Test at Lord’s.
Australia resumed on 171-6 with Labuschagne 53 not out after making 74 — seven more than England managed between them — in the first innings.
Labuschagne had made 60 when he was dropped for the third time in his innings by diving wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow when an edge off Stuart Broad appeared to be heading Root’s way at first slip.
Labuschagne had moved on to 70 when, as happened with his second ball at Lord’s, he was hit on the helmet grille by a Jofra Archer bouncer.
But he was cleared to bat on by Australia’s team doctor.
There was now a risk that wickets at the other end might deprive Labuschagne of a hundred but he ran himself out instead.
Ignoring the old rule of ‘never run on a misfield’ when Denly fumbled at third man, Labuschagne failed to beat a throw to Bairstow as his valuable 187-ball innings came to an end.