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.”
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