Dominant bowling display leaves England chasing 251 to keep Ashes alive
England were eyeing another memorable Ashes climax at Headingley after knocking over Australia to leave themselves in charge of a fourth-innings chase in the third Test.
The third day in Leeds looked destined to be a washout, with no play possible until 4.45pm, but those who kept the faith were rewarded with a gripping final session that saw the home side grab control of the game and keep alive their dreams of regaining the urn.
Well rested after a long dressing room vigil watching the rain fall, they picked up the hunt and took six wickets for 108 to roll their rivals for 224.
That left a chase of 251, with openers Zak Crawley (9no) and Ben Duckett (18no) making a breezy 27 without loss in five overs at the death.
Four years ago Ben Stokes scored an unforgettable century at the same ground to reel in a target of 359, joined by last man Jack Leach in a remarkable last-wicket stand, but this time the odds are in the hosts’ favour.
They have no option but to win, with defeats at Edgbaston and Lord’s leaving them 2-0 down with three to play, but they have repeatedly proved their chasing credentials over the last 18 months.
Last summer they made sport of reeling in even bigger scores and reached a target of 296 with seven wickets in hand against New Zealand at Headingley.
Travis Head was the star performer for Australia, blasting 77 to propel his side into a competitive position, but he will now pass the baton over to the bowlers who need 10 wickets in a hurry.
When play finally got under way almost six hours later than scheduled, there was a false start. Only one over was possible before the rain returned, with four of Chris Woakes’ deliveries pitched short, despite conditions begging for the ball to be pitched up.
Mercifully, the next break only took 10 minutes and when the contest resumed Woakes decided to let the conditions do their work.
Mitch Marsh had just picked up a couple of boundaries to put England on notice when Woakes tossed it up towards off stump, found the perfect outswinger and flicked the glove as Marsh (28) made an unconvincing attempt to withdraw the bat.
England were up and running now and quickly lined Alex Carey up as their next victim. Fresh from his role in the Lord’s stumping controversy, as well spurious rumours about an unpaid hairdressing debt, he groped haplessly at Stuart Broad, edged one through the cordon and then brought down his own stumps as he deflected a wobbling Woakes delivery into them.
At 139 for six, the call went up for Mark Wood to enter the fray. The extra pace initially helped Australia get the scoreboard moving, Head punching his second ball for four and his second over costing 12, including four byes soaring high over the wicketkeeper’s head.
But his ability to force errors soon paid off as he blasted out Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins in successive overs.
Starc flicked Wood high off his hips in what should have been a simple catch for Jonny Bairstow. The Yorkshireman, who has made a host of handling errors in the series, appeared to freeze in position, leaving an uncertain Harry Brook to throw himself into a diving catch from short-leg.
Cummins left Bairstow no choice a few moments later, fencing away from his body and nicking straight into the gloves.
Australia’s lead was 196 when Todd Murphy arrived at number 10 and 237 when he pinned lbw at the end of a superb over from Broad.
Head played a blinder in the 41-run stand, exposing his partner to just 10 deliveries while scoring rapidly under immense pressure. With boundary riders posted all over the park, he repeatedly hit the gaps, cutting and pulling square and winning his personal duel with Wood.
The more the Durham quick bent his back, the more Head’s score grew. Consecutive sixes into the leg side sealed the deal.
When England finally got a full over at Murphy, Broad was sure to make it count. He worked the tailender over for five excellent seaming deliveries then pinned him lbw with the sixth.
Head’s magic was about to run dry too, with one big shot too many picking out Duckett in the deep to set up the intriguing end game.
Crawley made a secure start for his side in an unenviable late cameo, with Duckett a more frantic operator. He nicked just short of the slips, then a couple of yards over the top of them, but also tucked into two meaty clips for four off an amped-up Cummins.
Every run was cheered to the rafters as it thinned out England’s day-four target and even a nasty blow to the thumb for Duckett could not dampen the home side’s spirits.
Another 224 are needed to send the teams to Manchester with the score at 2-1 and England expects.