England facing uphill Ashes battle as Australia dominate fourth day
England face an uphill battle to save this Specsavers Ashes Test Match – and the series – as Australia continued to dominate at Emirates Old Trafford after four days.
The visitors bowled England out to establish a first innings lead of 196 before Steve Smith-once again-helped Australia recover from an early collapse to set a challenging target of 383.
But the hosts endured a nightmare start to their second innings to finish the day on 18 for two and face the prospect of having to bat all day tomorrow to save their Ashes hopes, possibly emulating their heroics from Cardiff in 2009 when James Anderson and Monty Panesar battled through to a draw.
When play resumed Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow battled hard to move England on from their first innings overnight score of 200-5, Stokes pulling the fifth delivery of the morning from Pat Cummins for four.
Six overs into the day Australia took the new ball as soon as it was due, making a double change with Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood brought into the attack.
And Starc twice came close to an immediate breakthrough, Stokes inside edging a four and then offering the bowler a sharp chance off the following delivery when driving firmly back up the wicket.
But after surviving the first 45 minutes and appearing to have weathered the early exchanges Bairstow, having produced a back foot cover drive for four off Starc to move to 17, was then bowled by a good length delivery that swung back to hit the stumps with the batsman beaten on the drive.
A pumped up Starc next accounted for Stokes when the left hander played back defensively but edged a quicker delivery to Smith at second slip after making 26.
Jofra Archer, who was lucky not to be run out first ball when ambling down the wicket and well short of his ground, then swished at Pat Cummins to give an edge to wicketkeeper Tim Paine that meant England went into lunch on 278-8.
And Starc took his third wicket of the day soon after the resumption with a delivery that nipped back to beat Stuart Broad and hit middle and off stumps.
Buttler, once again batting with the lower order, went onto the attack driving Starc gloriously through cover for the four that took England to 300 and past the follow-on.
The Lancashire batsman struck seven fours during his 65-ball innings and was the last man out for 41 aiming a big drive off Cummins with England 301 all out and trailing by 196 runs.
But having conceded such a huge first innings deficit, a fired-up England-roared on by another full house-stunned Australia with four early wickets.
Broad struck in his first over trapping David Warner lbw for 0, the opener getting a ‘pair’ and now out for a duck in three consecutive innings, and the England paceman then trapped Marcus Harris in front for 6 after the batsman had unsuccessfully reviewed the decision.
Archer backed up his opening partner with a brace of his own having Marnus Labuschagne lbw for 11 and Emirates Old Trafford erupted when Travis Head had his middle stump ripped out by a 91 mph Archer delivery.
That left Australia on 44-4 as Broad and Archer both produced superb 10-over spells in a scintillating passage of play.
But once again England were unable to find a way to remove Steve Smith, although the batsman had several close calls against both bowlers. Somehow he survived alongside Matthew Wade to help the visitors reach tea on 63-4.
The pair steadily extended Australia’s lead after the break, although not without further alarms, with England hampered by Stokes' absence from the bowling line-up due to a shoulder injury.
Smith had yet another lucky escape on 38, perilously close to edging on to his stumps off Broad, with the ball trickling past leg stump by a matter of inches.
And ten runs later Smith reverse swept hard at Jack Leach with Stokes, running from slip, getting a hand to a diving attempt at a catch.
By the time Smith had reached his fifty-for the ninth consecutive innings-both batsmen were well set and on the attack with Australia, now ahead by 300 runs, intent on setting a declaration.
The century partnership came off 139 balls when Smith pulled Broad for four and another fabulous innings came to an end when the Australian hit Leach high to Stokes at long off to depart for 82 off 92 balls-his lowest score of the series!
Wade followed for 34 well caught by a diving Bairstow off Archer and Paine (23 not out) and Starc (3 not out) took Australia to 186-6 when the declaration arrived leaving England a target of 382 runs to win and 30 minutes to bat in the day.
Disaster struck in the first over for England with two wickets falling to a rampant Pat Cummins.
Rory Burns got a leading edge to a harmless looking delivery from Cummins' third ball and Head took an easy catch at mid-off.
England captain Joe Root was completely beaten by Cummins next delivery, the ball nipping away to clip off stump and England’s hopes were in disarray at 0-2.
Joe Denly (10 not out) and Jason Roy (8 not out) survived to reach the close on 18-2.
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