ENGLAND showed some true grit to force the Headingley Test into a fourth day but with the second new ball soon due, Australia remains warm favourite to win the match and regain the Ashes, says KEN PIESSE:
THERE is no more passionate cricketing citadel than Headingley and when the much-loved champion local Joe Root finally produced some of his vintage form to extend the Test into a fourth day, the locals on the Western Terrace went into full celebration.
It was a warm start to England’s famed August Bank Holiday weekend and Dress Up Saturday saw the appearance of all sorts of knights, convicts, schoolgirls and comic book heroes.
There was a never ending supply of Tetley’s, the favourite local tipple and by six o’clock most were in party mode, especially with Root maintaining England’s ever-so-slim chance of producing one of the most miraculous fourth innings chases in history.
Even defensive shots were applauded and there was a huge sigh of relief shortly before six when replays enabled him to survive a tight stumping chance when he’d made 61.
The resurrecting century stand between Root and the unsung series rookie Joe Denly saw the seven-to-one odds against an English victory shorten.
Australian captain Tim Paine, distraught on the second night after making a first innings duck, was even unhappier when he failed to glove a Nathan Lyon slider which whipped past an advancing Root and left him stranded out of his crease, only for the chance to be fumbled.
Set 359, the game seemed all but over at lunchtime when openers Rory Burns and Jason Roy both again succumbed quickly for single digit contributions.
The crowd had applauded even the defensive shots by Roy but he soon lost his off stump to Pat Cummins.
Having made a second ball duck in England’s embarrassing all out score of 67 on Friday, Root played with the authority and poise of a class batsman and resurrected England’s chances.
Josh Hazlewood was once again Australia’s outstanding bowler and late in the extended final session bowled seven overs for just three runs. He also had Denly caught at the wicket, introducing No.5 Ben Stokes in the difficult final half an hour.
“It’s a good contest and that’s what we want to see,” said ex-champion Glenn McGrath on Test Match Special.
When umpire Chris Gaffney dared judge Root out lbw when he had clearly edged the ball into his pads, the crowd erupted again and continued to stand and applaud as the reprieved
Root and Denly took immediate singles into the off side to derisive calls from the crowd of “Howzat”.
England’s previous highest winning chase was just 332 and while the target of 359 remains mountainous the heartening afternoon batting when just one wicket fell in the two final sessions has allowed all-England to dare to dream.
The royalty of Yorkshire cricket, Lord Hawke, Herbert Sutcliffe and Len Hutton, would be fulsome in their praise of local boy Root who remains unbowed and on the verge of one of his finest and most important centuries.
Only once this Test season has England batted even 80 overs, making their efforts so far this weekend totally against the odds.
Day four public tickets are sold out.
Australia 179 and 246 (Labuschagne 80, Stokes 3-56. England 67 and 3-156 (Root 75 not out, Denly 50, Hazlewood 2-35).
KEN PIESSE has covered cricket and football for more than 30 years in Melbourne. Despite that setback, Ken has written, published and edited 86 books on cricket and AFL football to become Australian sport’s most prolific author.
His latest cricket book is David Warner, The Bull, Daring to be Different with Wilkinson Publishing, out now