Former Australia skipper Ricky Ponting believes the second new-ball will be key for the visitors on a pivotal Day Four of the third Ashes Test against England at Headingley.
The Aussies are just one win away from retaining the historic urn in England for the first time since 2001 but Tim Paine and his men were frustrated for a large part on Day Three by a resurgent batting display from the hosts.
Having been bowled out for just 67 runs in their first-innings, England reached 156-3 at stumps on Saturday in their chase of a target of 359 runs. Skipper Joe Root dug in with an unbeaten 75 while Joe Denly registered his first half-century of the series as the hosts finally showed a backbone with the bat.
They still need 203 runs further for a victory to level the five-match series and Ponting is confident that Australia’s bowlers can seize the new-ball advantage to thwart any such plans.
“I know England have played really well this afternoon, they dug deep,” Ponting told cricket.com.au.
“Denly and Root’s partnership was outstanding, but I think Australia has still got plenty of runs. We’ve seen Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins bowl outstandingly well right through the game and I think as the game goes on Nathan Lyon is going to come in to it more and more.
“The wicket looks like it’s flattened out considerably late this afternoon but there’s a new ball around the corner tomorrow morning. It’s been a new-ball wicket all game. The other thing we’ve seen is in the game it has been a really hard wicket for anyone to come in and start on.”
England have never successfully chased a target as high as 359 runs in the final innings of a Test match with a chase of 332 runs in 1928 against Australia being their previous best.
England wholeheartedly believe they can haul down what would be a record pursuit of 359 to keep the Ashes series alive, according to Joe Denly.
Australia added 75 to their overnight lead of 283 on day three of the third Ashes Test at Headingley before a 126-run partnership between Joe Root and Denly formed the backbone of England’s 156 for three at stumps.
Root was still there at the close on 75 not out, alongside Ben Stokes, who showed plenty of restraint in scoring only two off 50 balls to set up the prospect of gripping fourth day’s play at Headingley.
England’s highest successful chase of 332 for seven was in 1928 but Denly, who contributed 50 on Saturday, insists the current crop are excited by the possibility of making history to stop Australia from retaining the urn.
He said: “It would have been nice to end the day with Rooty but in saying that, I still think we’re in very good position, there’s a lot of belief in that dressing room and a lot of excitement about tomorrow.
“We went in to today, never thinking about a draw or losing, only about winning – that belief has to be there. At the end of the day we’re in a reasonable position.
“We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves. We understand there is a tricky period in the morning with new ball coming up.
“But we have Rooty and Stokesy – two world-class batters in – so get through that and we will be in a great position. With the team we have, we can win games from any position, I believe.”
Australia only need seven wickets to move into an unassailable 2-0 series lead although their prospects of victory were closer when England slipped to 15 for two, one day on from their abject 67 all out.
Root had made nought in his previous two innings but he led by example with a steely knock while Denly was forced to weather an early barrage before contributing his second Test half-century.
Denly arrived at the crease with an average of only 22 but when asked whether he felt he was playing for his international future, he responded: “I wasn’t thinking about it like that.
“As top-order batter you are always under pressure to score runs – I got couple of starts and haven’t been able to capitalise.
“It’s never ideal when you get bowled out for 67, it wasn’t good enough and we had to show a bit of fight and a bit of character in the second innings.”
Marnus Labuschagne thinks Australia need to remain patient in order to seal victory.
He said: “The wicket’s flattened out a little bit and day three is probably one of the better days to bat on the wicket. If we show the same discipline we did today with the new ball tomorrow, we’ll definitely reap the rewards.”
Labuschagne, included following Steve Smith’s absence because of concussion, contributed 80 from Australia’s 246 all out but took a blow to the helmet from a Jofra Archer bouncer for the second time in two Tests.
He added: “You obviously don’t like getting hit in the head but it obviously wakes you up. The doc, it’s a bit of a laugh now, he comes out and I’m like ‘doc, I’m alright, I’m good’.
“I think he knows now. If I do get hit properly I think there will be a clear difference. The last few have just been glancing blows.”
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The third Ashes Test between at Headingley was fascinatingly poised at the end of a remarkable Day Three as England’s batsman finally showed some grit against Australia’s formidable pace attack.
Joe Root’s men started the day trailing Australia heavily after being bundled out for just 67 runs in their first-innings but they had managed to reach 156-3 in their attempt at a record fourth-innings chase of 359 by the time stumps were drawn on Saturday.
There is still a long way to go for the hosts if they are to restore parity in the five-match series with 203 runs still needed for a famous victory but they will go into the fourth day with a renewed sense of confidence.
At the end of a hard-fought day at Leeds, we take a look at the key takeaways.
Magnificent Labuschagne extends Australia’s lead
Australia started the day at 171-6 with their overall second-innings lead standing at 283 and they were given a solid start by Marnus Labuschagne and James Pattinson.
Having registered his third successive fifty since coming in as Steve Smith’s replacement, Labuschagne continued to impress despite taking another nasty blow to his helmet off the bowling of Jofra Archer.
The right-hander shared a 51-run stand with Pattinson for the seventh wicket and it was vital to Australia gaining a substantial second-innings lead. He was the penultimate Australia batsman to be dismissed on Saturday after being run-out for a valiant 80 but his display meant that the visitors have barely felt Smith’s absence in the clash.
Marnus Labuschagne played 187 balls in this innings and most of them were ferocious short balls. He has used bat, helmet and body to survive. It will be regarded as one of the bravest innings in Test cricket history.— Broken Cricket (@BrokenCricket) August 24, 2019
Roy’s horrendous run continues
Despite an improved batting showing from the hosts that followed later in the day, England’s second innings got off to a horrendous start with the openers falling cheaply once again.
Jason Roy’s loose dismissal in the first-innings while attempting to drive a wide Josh Hazlewood delivery had seen the pressure magnify on the England opener but there wasn’t much he could do against a snorter of a delivery from Pat Cummins on Saturday that took the top of his off-stump.
That dismissal means the right-hander has now been dismissed for single-digit scores in each of his last four innings while his series aggregate after three Tests is a mere 58 runs.
It will be hard now for the hosts to justify Roy’s selection for the remainder of the series with the batsman looking like fish out of water in the Test format. His only saving grace is the fact that openers from both sides have struggled in the series.
Jason Roy's average as a Test opener is 8.85 runs per dismissal, only one player in the history of Test cricket to have opened as many times as Roy (7 times) has a lower average: New Zealand's Ken Rutherford who averaged 4.60 from ten innings as opener. #Ashes— The CricViz Analyst (@cricvizanalyst) August 24, 2019
Root and Denly raise England’s hopes
An encore of England’s embarrassing first-inning collapse was looking like a real possibility when Roy and fellow opener Rory Burns were dismissed in quick succession but a remarkable 126-run stand for the third wicket between Joe Root and Joe Denly revived the hosts.
Both batsmen lived dangerous at the start of their innings with Josh Hazlewood breathing fire but they soon found their feet at the crease after weathering the initial storm. For once, Denly managed to convert a promising start into a half-century before he was finally dismissed late in the day to give Australia an opening.
At the other end, Root brought up his first half-century in five innings to recover from his recent slump and the England skipper was looking solid with an unbeaten 75 by the time stumps were drawn. The pressure was very much on the Yorkshire man on his home ground after registering a duck in the first-innings but he responded excellently with a captain’s innings at a time when his side desperately needed it.
England have never successfully chased more than 322 runs since 1928 in the final innings of a Test match and Root will be key if the hosts are to pull off the improbable on the penultimate day at Headingley.