Australia requires a huge fourth innings score if it is to win the Ashes series after a frustrating day three of the fifth and final Test at the Oval.
England took control of the match on Saturday (local time) with Joe Denly’s 94 helping his side to an imposing score of 8-313 at stumps and an overall lead of 382 runs.
Despite a remarkable catch from Steve Smith in the last session, the hosts are now big favourites to win the Test and ensure the series ends locked at 2-2.
Australia has already retained the Ashes as England needed to win the series to reclaim cricket’s famous urn.
Ben Stokes also chipped in with 67 on day three while Jos Buttler made 47 as England pushed its lead towards 400.
Nathan Lyon was the pick of the bowlers for Australia and took 3-65 from 22 overs, while Mitch Marsh (2-40) and Peter Siddle (2-52) chipped in, too.
But with Pat Cummins (1-55) and Josh Hazlewood (0-57) taking just one wicket between them, Australia was in the field all day on a good day for batting.
Australia’s wretched run with reviews continued, too, the tourists failing to review incorrect lbw decisions – that would have been overturned – on two occasions.
Tim Paine’s men finished on a high, at least, Smith and Marnus Labuschagne both taking outstanding catches in the final hour to raise spirits.
SCREAMER! Steve Smith can not stop doing incredible things on the cricket field! 😱
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) September 14, 2019
“Long day, challenging day … I’m pretty proud of all the effort of the bowlers,” Lyon told Sky Sports.
“Joe [Denly] played extremely well … it’s been a challenging day but can’t fault the effort of all those guys out there.”
Lyon, who did not want to comment too much on Australia’s reviews, said it was “a pretty good wicket” and that his side would be up for the fight in what looms as a 400-plus run chase.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” he added.
“We’re not going to shy away from the challenge, there’s two days [left] … we’re going to have a never say die attitude … keep fighting every inch of the way.”
Marcus Harris was not in the field for Australia due to a finger injury he suffered when dropping Denly late on day two when the opener was yet to score.
A Cricket Australia update said Harris “suffered split webbing on his left hand while fielding late yesterday which required seven stitches. He won’t field but is expected to bat”.
Denly started day three brightly, driving the third ball of the day for four and Cummins and Hazlewood were unable to make any early inroads.
Denly then attacked Lyon in his first over of the day, coming down the wicket to hit a four and a six in successive deliveries.
Lyon soon broke through, though, Burns edging a cut to Paine to end the most successful opening partnership of the Ashes at 54 runs.
Almost another hour unfolded before Lyon struck again, Joe Root (21) edging to Smith at first slip after a tense period that saw several words exchanged between players and Matthew Wade spoken to by umpires.
Denly and Stokes added 127 runs for the third wicket in 36.4 overs, a partnership that appears to have taken the game away from Australia.
It was not chanceless – Stokes was dropped by Smith on 11 while Denly would have been given out lbw on 54 if Australia had reviewed an lbw decision – but the pair both batted well and took England to tea and beyond.
Lyon was again the man to produce the all-important wicket, bowling Stokes with a brilliant delivery, and Denly then fell six runs short of his maiden Test century when he edged Siddle to Smith via a deflection off Paine.
It seemed the perfect time for aggressive pair Buttler and Jonny Bairstow (14) to bat and they would have inflicted more frustration if the duo batted together for a meaningful chunk of time.
But Bairstow edged Marsh to Smith before Buttler was lucky that Australia again failed to review an incorrect lbw call.
Cummins had Sam Curran caught down the leg side for 17 and the wickets kept falling as Smith produced an acrobatic catch at first slip that he caught in mid-air.
That removed Chris Woakes for six off Marsh and from the very next ball, Buttler skied a hook shot and Labuschagne charged in and dived forward to take another superb catch.
Jack Leach (five not out) and Jofra Archer (three not out) got England to stumps, though, setting up an intriguing day four.