Joe Root led from the front with his highest score of the Ashes series so far to keep alive hopes of another Headingley miracle against Australia.
Root’s unbeaten 75, an innings that followed successive ducks for England’s captain, led his team to 156 for three at the end of the third day of this third Test.
They start the fourth needing another 203 in their second innings to pull off an England-record Test run chase.
They will at least be trying to create history at a ground where they have enjoyed barely-believable success in the past against Australia —namely in 1981 when Ian Botham inspired them to a famous win after they were forced to follow on and 2001 when Mark Butcher’s 173 helped the hosts chase down 315.
Joe Denly, who scored a half-century yesterday to help
keep alive his own Test career, admitted Root’s performance has been crucial in convincing a team routed for 67 on day two that they can prevent Australia from taking an insurmountable 2-0 lead that would see them retain the Ashes with two Tests to spare.
‘Any time Joe Root is scoring runs it puts belief in the side,’ he said. ‘We feed off that and as a captain as well.
‘In terms of the pitch it’s pretty good for batting on, not too much turn and it won’t deteriorate overnight, so hopefully we get ourselves in again.’
Australia will have the second new ball available to them eight overs into the fourth day but with Ben Stokes, in alongside Root overnight, among several players who came back from the dead in last month’s thrilling World Cup final against New Zealand at Lord’s, Denly says anything is still possible in this match.
‘I wasn’t part of that side but with the team we have we can win games from any position,’ he said.
‘We have some dangerous and experienced players. I’m very excited. All the team are.
‘We went in today never thinking about a draw or losing, it’s all about winning. We believe.
‘We understand there is a tricky period in the morning with the new ball coming up. But we have Rooty and Stokesy — two world-class batters — in so get through that and we will be in a great position.’ On his own position, Denly, whose Test average now stands at 24.33 after his second half-century at this level, said: ‘I wasn’t thinking about it like that. As a top-order batter you’re always under pressure to score runs. I’ve got a couple of starts and haven’t been able to capitalise. It would have been nice to end the day with Rooty but I still think we’re in very good position.’
But Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne has no doubt the tourists can get the seven wickets they need to secure a win that will see them retain the Ashes.
‘We have the new ball due in eight overs which is good for us,’ he said.
‘We have to shut that scoreboard down and challenge both edges of the bat ball-in, ball-out. If we do that I’ve no doubt we will win the match.’