LONDON, UK – Australia closed in on victory in the fifth and final Ashes Test at The Oval, needing another four wickets to seal a fine win before I boil my head in the oven.
Following on after earlier being skittled out for 149, England closed day three on 203-6 after Alastair Cook’s 85 and Jos Buttler’s 33*, needing a further 129 to make Australia bat again.
Yet, with heavy rain forecast for the London area on Sunday afternoon and all day Monday, England may yet be rescued by the weather.
Earlier, in lovely sunshine, Mark Wood and Moeen Ali began the day as Australia had started it yesterday, with a spate of boundaries and looking fairly comfortable with Peter Siddle and Mitchell Marsh the receivers of some beautiful hitting from the pair.
But their resistance was to be broken upon the re-introduction of Mitchell Johnson. His bounce and pace proved too much for Wood (24), who looked uncomfortable with the paceman’s first two balls before hooking his third – a short one straight to Mitchell Starc at midwicket.
Johnson then brought a wretched England innings to a close – a full delivery outside off-stump attracted Ali (30) into playing, but he could only nick the ball behind to Peter Nevill.
Fully anticipated, and with rain lurking on the agenda, Michael Clarke enforced the follow-on. This brought Adam Lyth to the crease for one last crack at proving, maybe also to himself, that he belongs at International level.
His potentially last hoo-hah didn’t last long however. With an air of inevitably, he succumbed to Siddle after his previous three overs failed to conjure one single run.
He found himself squared up in front of off-stump which took a leading edge and Clarke appreciatively took the catch at first slip – he trudged off with a despondency knowing he may never play for England again.
Either side of the lunch break, Ian Bell (13) never really looked at ease at the crease. He was fortunate to escape when pulling a sharp Marsh ball that just about eluded Chris Rogers’ fingertips.
With his very next ball, a full length delivery grazed Bell’s gloves on the way through to Clarke at second slip to compound an unsatisfactory series for the England number-three.
Joe Root (11) was another who fell into the Johnson trap – hooking another short bouncer from the paceman straight to Starc fielding at long-leg, who took a clever catch.
Alastair Cook stabilised the ship to some degree, completing a captain’s-like half-century off 118 balls with Jonny Bairstow contributing with 20 from 24 balls, going into the tea break on 123-3.
Nathan Lyon then turned the screw with two wickets in an over to firstly remove Bairstow (26) – pushing forward and invoking a thick inside edge to Adam Vogues – and then Ben Stokes (0) who was swayed into driving a nice floated delivery, which Stokes could only edge to Clarke at slip.
Captain Cook and Buttler dug in to take the match into a fourth day but when Cook lunged forward tiredly, he could only edge it through to Voges for a very impressive knock of 85.
By now you sensed the Australians would finish off the job, but Mark Wood and Buttler safely negotiated the final ten overs to take the match into a fourth and final day of a error-strewn Ashes series.
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