Joe Root defied Australia’s daunting pace challenge on a lively surface to guide England to 156-3 at the close of play on the third day of the Headingley Test with the hosts requiring a further 203 runs for an unlikely win.
England’s second innings batting effort thus far has been a marked improvement from the pitiable total of 67 they could manage on Friday – their worst Ashes batting performance since 1948.
Alarm bells were ringing pointing towards a similar fate when England found themselves 15-2 with both openers dismissed in the afternoon session on Saturday.
Dogged resistance from Root and Joe Denly restored batting pride as they shared a gritty 126-run partnership for the third wicket testing the patience of the Australia bowlers.
Later, Ben Stokes refused to follow his natural attacking instincts and shouldered his arms to the oncoming deliveries to remain unbeaten at two off 50 balls at stumps.
The odds were highly stacked in Australia’s favour at the start of day three but the fightback from England has swung the game back into balance.
Despite Root and Denly’s stellar batting display, England have a gargantuan task at their hands and will have to become only the fourth side in history to chase down a total in excess of 300 at Headingley.
The script looked predictable once England had suffered yet another top-order collapse, losing two wickets in the space of four balls.
Rory Burns was dismissed in familiar fashion as he tried to sway out of the line of a quick short-pitched delivery from Pat Cummins only to end up edging it to David Warner.
Meanwhile, Jason Roy’s brief stay at the crease was ended by a beauty from Josh Hazlewood that cannoned into off-stump.
Denly was then greeted by attacking lines and lengths from the Australia bowlers as a fidgety start to his innings was epitomized by a Cummins bouncer which struck him flush on the helmet.
Root, who arrived into this innings with the baggage of two successive ducks in the series, grew in confidence with assured drives through the off-side.
Soon after reaching his fluent half-century, Root was adjudged out lbw to Hazlewood before the decision was overturned on review revealing a massive inside edge.
Denly bolstered England’s charge with a fifty of his own, reaching the landmark in 134 balls.
However, he could not add more to his tally of runs as a rising delivery from Hazlewood caught him off-guard in an awkward position trying to fend off the short ball but instead gloved it to the keeper.
Earlier in the day, Marnus Labuschagne recovered Australia from an uncertain position to help them post a target of 359.
He accumulated his third consecutive fifty of the series and contributed with 80 vital runs in Australia’s second innings total of 246.
The 25-year-old, who was drafted into the playing XI in the previous game following Steve Smith’s concussion injury, proved his worth as a phenomenal understudy albeit being helped by fielding errors from the England players along the way.
After being dropped twice the previous day, a chance off Labuschagne’s bat was grassed by Jonny Bairstow on the third morning of the ongoing Test match.
He was eventually dismissed via a run-out after he failed to assess Denly’s athleticism in the field.
"I had a few chances out there," said Labuschagne, who achieved a unique record of becoming the fifth batsman to outscore an opposition’s first innings total twice in a match.
"Luck can change very quickly and it was disappointing to be run out at the end."