Rory Burns and Joe Root help England fight back
Rory Burns and Joe Root sucked the momentum away from Australia as they began the job of batting England back into the fourth Ashes Test.
After watching the tourists pile up 497 before declaring on the second evening, the pressure was on England to match that resolve on day three at Old Trafford and they duly reached a relatively secure 125 for two at tea.
They were initially helped by the weather, with rain ensuring no play before 1.30pm, but an elongated afternoon session saw Burns make 62 not out with Root unbeaten on 47.
Resuming on 23 for one England lost only one wicket, that of nightwatchman Craig Overton as the visiting attack quickly made up for lost time.
After several hours of pondering and planning how he might frustrate the bowlers, and in the process spare Root the trouble, Overton fell to the ninth ball of the day.
Josh Hazlewood was too good for the Somerset player, drawing the bat a fraction outside off stump and clipping the edge as the ball zipped through to Steve Smith at second slip.
After celebrating his third double century in Tests on Thursday, this represented another milestone: his 100th catch.
That gave Australia a chance to size up Root with the new ball, with Hazlewood beating him on the outside edge then seaming one back in – just missing the stumps with no shot offered.
The tactics against Burns involved a steady diet of short balls from Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc.
While he has been vulnerable to such plans in the past couple of games, Burns looked in good order
early on, ducking where possible and refusing to give short-leg a sniff when he did need to play.
Australia began to get sloppy as they chased another breakthrough, both batsmen offered cheap runs on
the leg-side as the boundary count began to mount.
By the time they had spent 20 overs together the partnership was worth 50 and Starc’s second spell of the day hastened things along nicely, shipping 22 runs from two overs.
Burns profited most, a confident square cut for four and a deft steer to third man bringing up his own half-century in exactly 100 balls.
Root faced the bulk of Nathan Lyon’s off-spin and although there were a couple of awkward moments, a dodgy sweep here and an inside edge there, he powered through.
At one stage Lyon found himself ironically cheered for taking a throw cleanly at the bowler’s end, the crowd reminding him they had not forgotten his botched run-out during the closing moments at Headingley.
Root’s diligence paid off towards the end of the session, moving into the 40s before really asserting himself with a full-blooded pull off Hazlewood.
Although 372 behind at the break, the third-wicket pair had shown a willingness for the battle, soaking up a combined 245 deliveries.