England hold a handy lead in the final Ashes Test following inspiration from Jofra Archer and a rare misjudgement from the relentless Steve Smith.
The hosts, bidding to avoid a first series defeat to Australia on home soil since 2001, will resume on day three at The Oval with a 78-run advantage.
Archer was instrumental in Friday’s dismantling of the tourists, taking six for 62, while Smith’s air of invincibility was cracked slightly by Chris Woakes’ lbw dismissal.
New father Joe Denly and Rory Burns survived four dicey overs before stumps to extend a first-innings lead of 69 by nine.
Paceman Archer believes a stunning catch from Burns to remove Peter Siddle, which ended Australia’s innings and earned his sixth wicket, could prove to be a pivotal moment in England’s quest to secure a 2-2 series draw.
“It was a special catch and it was even better to get us off the field,” said Archer.
“Sometimes if you don’t get them they come back tomorrow and get another 30-40 runs, so I don’t think we should underestimate how good that catch was and the position it puts us in.
“We can take that momentum now and hopefully build our lead.”
Every other batsman in this low-scoring series would have been more than happy with Smith’s knock of 80 on Friday. But for Australia’s masterful number four that represented his lowest contribution of a campaign in which he has piled on 751 runs at an average north of 125.
The 30-year-old, whose side were all out for 225, will hope to feel a little fresher the next time he takes to the crease, having battled on with a minor illness.
“I’ve been struggling a little bit, I’ve got a little bit of the flu,” Smith said after the unusual experience of not conquering all before him.
“I was loading up on the cold and flu medicine and just tried to stay as focused as I could be, but unfortunately I couldn’t bat with the tail for as long as I would have liked.”
Archer’s impressive figures were fitting reward for persistently hostile fast bowling that left no margin for error.
He has enjoyed some wonderful exchanges with Smith in recent weeks and sensed his rival’s equilibrium was off, even though he managed to produce the top score of the game.
Told of Smith’s predicament, Archer said: “Fair enough…I knew there was something.
“To be honest, he didn’t look himself, he didn’t look as nailed-on as he usually is. I guess we did bowl well but he didn’t seem the same way.
“But it’s weird, you know? Every time he bats, I don’t know what it is – he literally cannot get out.
“If he plays a bad shot, the ball just lands in no-man’s land. The whole series. Obviously he’s a good batter, he’s got a good temperament, but I just don’t know what it is. The ball just never goes to hand.”
James Anderson believes Joe Root is still the best man to captain England and has vowed to be part of the team’s next chapter.
Root faced questions over his leadership in the aftermath of Australia securing the Ashes urn on Sunday but insisted he would make a success of it ahead of this week’s concluding match at The Oval.
Things might have been different had he been able to call on the most prolific seam bowler in Test history but Anderson was reduced to a bit-part role, bowling just four overs on the first morning of the series before a calf injury wrecked his hopes of further action.
Anderson is 37 and has played 149 Tests but has no intention of ending his England career on such a disappointing note. And when he does return he hopes Root is still at the helm.
“He’s definitely the man to take us forward. Absolutely, he’s got a lot to give,” Anderson told the PA news agency.
“He has done some great work. But the team has been developing over the last few years and going into a big series like this you want a settled team that’s fit and firing. I feel for Joe as he’s not quite had that. It’s been difficult.”
Head coach Trevor Bayliss ends his four-year reign at the end of the fifth Test and Anderson believes that represents a chance for Root to forge a new partnership with his successor.
“It will be interesting to see who England get in as the next coach and Joe and hopefully, whoever it is, he and Joe can hopefully take the Test team forward. We have shown signs what we can do, there have been signs of being a good Test side, but it’s about making a good team on paper and putting it in practice on the field.”
As for his own future, Anderson is strident. He has been asked questions about potential retirement plans for most of the last few years but his answers remain consistent.
He still loves the game and has no intention of turning his back on it, even after his recent fitness problems.
There is even a new target to aim for – taking his place in a tantalising pace attack with new star Jofra Archer and his long-time partner Stuart Broad.
“One of the big frustrations about not playing is seeing the guys out on the field,” he said.
“It’s been great to see Jofra taking to international cricket the way he has and Broady has been fantastic all series. He’s shown his class all the way through.
“I’d love to be a part of this bowling attack because I think we could have something special there.
“Now I’m focused on trying to get myself fit again and try to get in shape for the winter. I have to try and get my body in as good shape as possible.
“I feel great, in as good condition as I’ve been for a long time. It’s just the calf that’s been the hindrance. Get that working, strong again, and I’m hopeful I can play a part in New Zealand or South Africa this winter.
“The hunger is still there to go through that rehab process again. If there were any doubts, going through rehab can be tough mentally, but the fact I want to do it and am keen to get going again means I’m still hungry.”
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Joe Root is under “no pressure” as England captain, according to outgoing coach Trevor Bayliss.
Failing to return the Ashes has led to the Yorkshireman’s position being discussed, particularly given his batting performances have been somewhat inconsistent.
But Bayliss, who leaves his role after four years following this week’s final Test, says there are no issues.
“He’s not come under question from anyone making any decisions,” Bayliss said. “He’s under no pressure at all.”
On Root’s form with the bat, Bayliss added: “Everyone goes through periods where they don’t score as many runs as they’d like. I think the Australian team have bowled pretty well to him, so we’ll see how things go further down the line.
“From my point of view, he was our premier batter and the Australians always try and target the opposition captain. He’s played well when he’s got starts and I don’t see too many problems.”
After winning at Old Trafford to go 2-1 up in the series, Australia’s players celebrated on the field and were accused by some of mocking England spinner Jack Leach while doing so.
“Fake news, like Donald Trump says,” Bayliss said. “No one has mentioned it or spoken about it. It’s all talk from you guys (the media).”
Bayliss will return to Australia after the series, having spent four years in the job and taking England to World Cup glory in July.
“On one hand I am sad to be leaving,” he said. “It’s been a fantastic environment to work in, everyone has made me feel at home.
“From a cricket sense we’ve had a lot of good performances, the cherry on top the World Cup win.
“But I am looking forward to getting home and it’s time for someone else to come in with a new voice.”
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