Joe Root and Dawid Malan batted through the final session to give England some hope of salvaging a draw in the opening Ashes Test against Australia at the Gabba on Friday.
England were 220-2 at the close of play, with skipper Root on 86 and Malan 80, only 58 runs behind Australia after starting their second innings 278 runs in arrears.
After England lost both openers in the session before tea, Root and Malan looked increasingly comfortable on the third day Gabba pitch as they steadily wore down the Australian attack.
Root’s 86 not out is one short of his highest score in Australia and took him past 1500 — 1541 — runs in a calendar year, the most ever by an Englishman, surpassing Michael Vaughan’s 1481 in 2002.
He barely offered a chance in his innings, stroking 10 boundaries, including a sublime reverse sweep off spinner Nathan Lyon.
Lyon, still searching for his 400th Test wicket, never looked like breaking through against the English batters.
The South Africa-born Malan scored his only Test century on the last tour of Australia and although not as comfortable as his captain, he also looked in control for most of his innings.
He did struggle with fatigue towards the close, however, and at one stage went down with cramp.
Earlier, Travis Head scored a superb 152 to put Australia in what seemed a commanding position after their first innings.
Australia were finally dismissed for 425 on Friday, 30 minutes before lunch, a handsome lead of 278.
England then survived a tricky period and went to lunch 23 for no wicket.
Rory Burns, who was out first ball of the series on Wednesday when clean-bowled by Mitchell Starc, was lucky to survive the dreaded pair when he was adjudged leg-before wicket on Starc’s sixth ball of the first over Friday.
But after reviewing the decision, replays showed the ball was just missing the top of middle stump, and a relieved Burns survived.
But he didn’t last long after lunch and gloved a ball to wicketkeeper Alex Carey off Australian captain Pat Cummins.
Haseeb Hameed looked in great touch and eased to 27, but he tried to glance a wide ball from Starc, only to get a faint touch to Carey.
Head, who was controversially selected for the Test ahead of Usman Khawaja, played a magnificent hand.
Coming in with the score at 189-3, Head then saw David Warner and Cameron Green fall in consecutive balls as England tried to stage a fightback.
But Head refused to be tied down and launched a brilliant counterattack, being particularly harsh on England’s left-arm spinner Jack Leach.
After blasting the third-fastest century in Ashes history in the final session on Thursday, Head carried on where he left off on Friday morning, flashing at anything wide and attacking Leach anew.
Head played and missed a number of times, but was rewarded for his stroke play, his 152 coming from only 148 balls, including four massive sixes and 14 boundaries.
Head brought up his 150 with a pullshot through square leg off Leach, whose Test future must surely be in doubt after going for 102 runs in his 13 overs.
England, who scored only 147 runs in their first innings, didn’t help their cause with three dropped catches in the session.
Chris Woakes put down a caught-and-bowled chance, wicketkeeper Jos Buttler couldn’t handle a tough caught behind off Mark Wood and Hameed grassed a chance in the deep, also off Wood’s bowling.
Wood was rewarded for his consistent high pace, taking 3-85, including the wicket of Head, while Ollie Robinson was the most dangerous of the English bowlers with 3-58.
Woakes rounded out a decent effort from the three seamers with figures of 2-76.
© 2021, Sithembile Mkhwanazi. All rights reserved.