Australia's Ashes charge blocked by firmly-planted Root
Visitors seven wickets from retaining urn, but England skipper defiant in gritty third-day contest
Andrew Ramsey at Headingley, Leeds
25 August 2019, 07:00 AM AEST
Australia's hasty grasp for the Ashes in the minutes after lunch on Saturday has been slapped away by England captain Joe Root who led his team to believe they can still level the series.
Set an unprecedented 359 to win the third Test and forestall Australia's push to retain the urn, Australia were buoyant upon removing England's openers in successive overs to have the hosts in familiar strife at 2-15.
But unlike the previous day's carnage, when England were blown away for 67 and Australia found batting tough in posting 246, Root defied his recent form slump in the face of some relentlessly disciplined bowling.
The England skipper, whose Ashes captaincy has come under scrutiny following a couple of recent failures, ended day three unbeaten on 75 and with the victory target reduced to 203.
He will resume before another full house at his home ground tomorrow eyeing his first Ashes century since the famous Trent Bridge Test in 2015, and with Stokes who remains two not out after an uncharacteristically cautious knock that's lasted 50 minutes and as many deliveries.
Stokes's innings was symptomatic of England's approach to the unlikely goal, with just 66 runs added to their tally in the 34 overs between tea and stumps.
The total that was needed to keep the series alive had never been reached by England to win an Ashes Test.
In fact, over the course of 142 years and 1013 matches, England have never posted such a score in the fourth innings to claim victory.
However, those figures reflect the difficulties inherent in batting on days four and five of a Test, when pitches are historically at their most worn and worrisome.
Due to the speed at which this game has moved forward since it began in conditions that resembled mid-winter on Thursday, the Headingley pitch was effectively in its mid-match prime when England began their quest.
Not that it helped under siege opening pair Rory Burns and Jason Roy.
The duo were afforded a rousing ovation by a hopeful Headingley crowd when they negotiated four overs prior to lunch with barely so much as a false stroke.
But regular programming returned immediately after the interval, with Burns – having worn a brutal blow on his left thumb – became the fifth England batter to nick a catch to David Warner at first slip.
Three balls later, in the third over after lunch, Roy's frailties as a Test opener were laid bare by an exemplary delivery from Pat Cummins, which moved marginally away from the right-hander's speculative forward push and instead found the crown of off-stump.
Roy slammed his bat into the turf as he trudged from the field, loudly articulating his disappointment to the television camera operator who accompanied him to the boundary rope.
With Root yet to face a ball having scored consecutive ducks in his past two innings and Denly clearly battling for form despite top-scoring in England's first innings (with 12), Australia sensed another demolition job beckoned.
But having played and missed with disconcerting regularity, particularly Denly who aimed a number of unsuccessful cover drives, the pair slowly settled into rhythm.
As the ball grew softer and lost its sheen, and the Australia bowlers were unable to find the swing that had proved so potent for England in similar conditions on Friday afternoon, the target ever-so-lowly shrank.
With the pitch flattening and the ball no longer misbehaving, the Australia bowlers targeted Denly with short balls and the right-hander was struck a fierce blow on the helmet from Cummins when on seven.
Soon after tea, Root reached 50 for the second time in the series and then the duo reached their 100 stand soon after, coming from 37 overs of toil and occasional panache.
Denly was rewarded for his resilience with his first half-century of the campaign and the second of his six-Test career to date, having survived almost three and half hours and 134 deliveries in the process.
As the day's final hour began and the target narrowed to 220, a mini-battle ensued between the ensconced batting pair and contrasting bowlers Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon.
While Lyon tied down Root with a probing off-stump line, Hazlewood zeroed in on Denly who had earlier survived a couple of confident appeals against the off-spinner, one of which Australia unsuccessfully sent for review.
But eventually, the problems Denly had experienced against bouncers brought his dismissal when a short ball from Hazlewood aimed at his throat looped from his glove into the gauntlets of Tim Paine.
Root, then on 64, was joined by his vice-captain Ben Stokes, not-so-fresh from having bowled 15 overs virtually unchanged on Friday evening and a further nine on the trot the next morning.
England's senior pair then defied Australia for almost an hour as a match previously played at dizzying speed suddenly dropped anchor.
With three days, each to contain 98 overs and none of them likely to be impacted by wet weather, Australia resumed on Saturday knowing that not only was every run crucial, but every over they kept England in the field delivered longer-term benefit.
The sight of Jofra Archer hobbling from the field due to cramp late on Friday showed the impact of wearing down England's bowlers under the unusually strong Yorkshire sun.
It was a legacy of that moment that prevented Archer from taking the ball when play resumed, and Australia's not out pair celebrated his absence by adding 29 to the overnight total.
If that didn't deflate England's morale, the chance that Jonny Bairstow missed – diving low to his right, in front of Root at slip – when Labuschagne was 60 surely seemed to.
Certainly, it infuriated Stuart Broad, the unlucky bowler who hurled the ball along the pitch at his wicketkeeper at over's end.
But in just his second over of the morning, and shortly after Labuschagne and James Pattinson had posted a 50-run stand for the seventh wicket, Archer found stride and Pattinson's outside edge.
Root's relief at finally hanging on to a chance was obvious, although the sight of Labuschagne at the crease – after the England skipper had dropped him the previous afternoon when on 14 – ensured the pain lingered.
There was further pain for Labuschagne as well, when Archer reprised the bouncer that floored the Queenslander the instant he entered the game at Lord's.
Once again, the ball climbed and veered at Labuschagne's head and the batter had no time to take any course other than being hit flush on the grille of his protective helmet.
From that moment, having been checked for concussion and passed fit to continue, Labuschagne changed his method against Archer and began stepping back to try and flay him way over the off-side.
It ultimately cost him his wicket, though not through false execution of an improvised shot.
Rather, it came when Labuschagne saw Joe Denly fumble the ball near the third man boundary, and hared back for a second run that failed to beat the Englishman's throw from the deep.
Labuschagne was angry with himself when the electronic scoreboard confirmed his dismissal, but by top-scoring in each of Australia's innings (as well as in the second innings at Lord's) he had done much to put his team within touching distance of the Ashes.
Australia XI: Marcus Harris, David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine (c, wk), Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon.
England XI: Jason Roy, Rory Burns, Joe Root (c), Joe Denly, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer, Jack Leach
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia beat England by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: Match drawn at Lord's
Third Test: August 22-26, Headingley
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval