England facing another unlikely rescue act after Australia declaration
Australia declared with a lead of 382 late on day four of the penultimate Ashes Test after yet another superb contribution from Steve Smith.
Tim Paine ended his side’s second innings on 186 for six, of which the irrepressible Smith was was responsible for 82, to begin the job of bowling England out and securing the urn.
England were left needing to bat out the remainder of the match or produce a chase that would outstrip Ben Stokes’ Headingley heroics by a clear 20 runs.
The day began with England 200 for five, with Stokes carrying the burden of expectation following his exploits in Leeds.
He and Jonny Bairstow successfully negotiated six overs of the new ball but, as soon as Mitchell Starc unwrapped the fresh Dukes, the tone changed.
The left-armer disappointed on day three but now there was swing in the air and he used it to spear a yorker through the inviting gap offered by Bairstow.
Stokes was living dangerously himself, surviving a caught-and-bowled chance and seeing a top-edged hook sail over the wicketkeeper’s head. He managed 26 before the end came, pushing away from his body at Starc and feeding Smith at slip.
His latest attempt at digging England out a sizeable hole had faltered, but Jos Buttler was on hand to take the follow-on off the table with his best score of the series, 41.
He got off the mark with an uppish drive that briefly tempted cover, and responded to Jofra Archer’s soft dismissal by setting off a seven-ball sequence that saw him hit three more boundaries.
Stands of 27 with Stuart Broad and 18 with Leach allowed him to chalk off the follow-on target, with a flourish through cover, before he was last man out to Pat Cummins’ fast and full riposte. Leach would have been lbw with seven needed to avoid the follow on but Australia had wasted their referrals.
England were just as precise after the changeover, with David Warner once again bullied by Broad. It was a clear lbw that did for him, his sixth dismissal by Broad in eight innings, his second duck of the match and his third in succession.
Marcus Harris departed in similar fashion, Broad on a roll from round the wicket, and Archer made it three leg before decisions in a row when he pinned Marnus Labuschagne in front for 11 – his first dismissal under 50 in five knocks.
The best was yet to come, Archer uprooting Travis Head’s middle stump during a speedy spell, before the interval left both sides to gather their thoughts.
Smith had played a low-key role before tea, surviving a stern examination from Broad, and reaching the break on 19.
His entire outlook was about to change, though, taking 10 runs off Leach’s first over of the evening with a sequence of aggressive strokes.
He was soon hacking over the infield, sweeping into the gaps and paddling square on both sides. The pressure dissolved as his counter-attack took hold, with Root’s attempts to set a field increasingly in vain.
Stokes almost conjured a brilliant solution, sprinting from slip in anticipation of a reverse sweep but parrying what would have been an unbelievable catch. As Smith jogged through for one, he took the lead to 300, working another single next up for his 50.
Archer returned for a new spell and found himself drawn in by Smith, his first ball pulled hard in front of square and his second guided deftly past the sprawling gully fielder
Yet another century seemed to be inevitable but finally his veneer cracked, a big swing against Leach sending a steepling chance to long-off to the safest hands imaginable: Stokes.
Australia added another 37, losing Matthew Wade to Archer, before setting up the final equation.