Buttler leads the resistance as England bid to go the distance
England took their battle to save the Ashes into the final session of the fourth Test, with Jos Buttler leading the resistance on 166 for six at tea.
Buttler was bringing up his 29th birthday at Old Trafford but any celebrations will be put on hold until the fate of the match, and the destination of the urn, are settled.
Resuming on 18 for two and facing the prospect of batting out a full 98-over day to prevent Australia retaining with a 2-1 series lead, the home side lost four wickets in the first two sessions.
Joe Denly made 53 in 123 deliveries as he showed the way, with Buttler on 30 from 96 by the time he and Craig Overton walked off to a huge roar of approval from a sell-out 23,500 crowd.
Pat Cummins’ removal of Rory Burns and Joe Root on Saturday night had been a hammer blow for England, denying the hosts their two most durable performers from the first innings.
In their stead it fell to Jason Roy and Denly, two men with points to prove. There were a couple of lbw shouts against Denly in the opening overs, both sliding down leg side, while Roy was able to coax the first big cheer when he tucked the ball through midwicket for four.
Both men were playing cautiously until Denly’s patience wavered, chasing a wide delivery from Mitchell Starc and seeing a wild outside edge sail over the cordon. To even consider playing at such a ball was an error but he survived with nothing worse than a lesson learned and four runs to his name.
It took Paine just eight overs to send for Nathan Lyon’s spin and Denly greeted him by sweeping hard to the boundary. There were a couple of nervy moments, Roy almost offering a bat-pad chance and Denly’s slog-sweep landing just in front of the fielder, but otherwise all was well for the hosts.
By the time Roy leant on a nicely-timed cover drive off Starc an hour had passed and England were had moved along to 56.
Australia were searching for a breakthrough and, after 18 overs and 80 minutes, Cummins provided it. It was another fine delivery from the world number one, seaming in between bat and pad and hitting the target.
Roy’s work was done on 31 and his departure brought Ben Stokes to the crease, to the expected deafening welcome. The Headingley hero lasted just 17 deliveries, though, caught in two minds by one that moved back in and flicked the inside edge of an attempted leave.
Umpire Marais Erasmus was not sure, but Australia knew they had their man and Stokes opted to walk before DRS was required. Lunch came at 87 for four, with the ominous prospect of an extended afternoon session hovering into view.
Denly was on 48 at the break and, though runs were no more than an afterthought in the wider scheme, a half-century was an important personal milestone.
A punch down the ground off Cummins got him there, for the third time in seven Tests, but his race was almost run. Lyon had bowled 47 wicketless overs in the match when he got one to turn and bounce, forcing Denly back and nudging the glove on its way to short-leg.
After holding the fort for exactly 100 balls on the day, he was out. It left England with one more partnership before the tail was exposed.
Bairstow and Jos Buttler put on 45 but ate up little more than an hour’s play, not quite enough to introduce any jitters.
Paine felt brave enough to fritter three overs on the part-time spin of Marnus Labuschagne and Travis Head but made sure to give the first ball after the drinks break to Starc. It was fast, angling in from round the wicket and destined for leg stump – Bairstow called for DRS but to no avail.
Number eight Overton proved a doughty foil for Buttler, both men surviving another challenging burst from Cummins as a replacement ball began swinging sharply.