Key wickets late in the day helped put England in with a chance of staying in contention in the Ashes series in their must-win third test, Australia finishing a thrilling day two on 116-4 with a second-innings lead of 142.
More heroics from captain Ben Stokes single-handedly got England within 26 runs of Australia’s first innings total after a big-hitting 80, the hosts skittled out for 237.
Despite losing the early wicket of David Warner for one, to Stuart Broad for the 17th time in the veteran bowler’s test career, Australia, who lead the series 2-0, looked to be in control and coasting towards generating a commanding lead.
But the cheap wickets of experienced duo Marnus Labuschagne (33) and Steve Smith (2) dragged England back into the match, before first innings centurion Mitchell Marsh steered Australia through to the close of another gripping day of Ashes action.
“We are really pleased to be still in the game,” England’s Moeen Ali said. “It’s crucial that we get a couple of early wickets tomorrow and it’s not too much of a big lead.
“He (Stokes) is a brilliant player. I think it’s the situations more than anything. He loves those situations and thrives off them. But we can’t rely on him all the time.
“While he is there though, we always have a chance.”
When Stokes came to the wicket, England were staring down the barrel of another defeat, languishing on 87-5, needing their captain to save them, just as he did at Headingley in 2019 to avoid Australia retaining the Ashes early then.
After lunch, despite visibly struggling with a variety of injuries, a wounded Stokes took the attack to Australia, hammering back-to-back sixes to pass 6,000 international test runs in style.
He could not quite match his Lord’s heroics with another century but his efforts, backed up by some tail-end hitting from his team mates, got England back into the contest.
Australia skipper Pat Cummins took his first five-wicket haul in England to help wrap the England innings up, finishing with figures of 6-91.
The sunny conditions were perfect for Australia to settle in and bat for a long period to stretch their lead but, after Warner’s wicket went, Labuschagne’s Ashes struggles continued as he again failed to reach a half century, falling to a poor shot.
Playing in his 100th test, Smith would have been eyeing another hundred but ended up clashing with England wicket keeper Jonny Bairstow, who was controversially stumped in the last test, as he left the field.
Both Australia batsmen fell to Moeen, wickets that took the spinner to 200 in test cricket.
England sensed a flurry of wickets to come as Chris Woakes found Usman Khawaja’s edge for 43 but Marsh (17 not out), who hit a century is his first test appearance for Australia since the 2019 Ashes in the first innings, again looked in fine touch.
Travis Head (18 not out) was alongside him at the close but dismissing Marsh on Saturday will be key to England building on their evening’s work at Headingley.
“I’d love to be a spectator, not a coach, because I’d be able to appreciate things a little bit more but it’s got everyone on the edge of their seats,” Australia coach Andrew McDonald said.
“We’re going to have to work out a way to navigate through Ben Stokes in the second innings and Pat (Cummins) today was outstanding. So yeah, that is one showdown I think is a must watch.”