Leeds: England moved to within 98 runs of another memorable Ashes victory at Headingley, with Ben Stokes back on centre stage alongside Harry Brook.
Four years on from a famous Stokes-inspired victory at the same venue, England made themselves favourites to claim a gripping third test after another tightly fought morning on day four.
Needing 251 to win the match and keep the series alive at 2-1, the hosts reached 153-4 at lunch. Brook was playing forcefully on 40 not out, having swapped his spot at No. 3 for his favoured position of five, with Stokes new to the crease on seven.
The mere presence of the England captain is a major factor, with memories of his match-winning 2019 century here and last week’s 155 in a losing cause both adding weight.
Australia will still fancy their own chances of a late surge though, having picked up each of the top four in a session that would not allow either side to fully take control.
England’s openers came out in cautious mood at 27 without loss, adding 15 careful runs to the score before Ben Duckett was trapped in the crease by Mitchell Starc, lbw to a ball destined for leg stump.
Moeen Ali was the man to replace Duckett at three, a surprise switch with Brook and a hefty promotion from No. 7. The all-rounder has done the job before, but last appeared this high in November 2018.
It was a typically bold gambit from the Brendon McCullum regime but one that did not pay off.
Moeen made five from 15 deliveries and had no answer for a 90mph rocket from Starc, forcing its way through a modest drive and pounding the stumps.
If that dismissal raised any nerves around the ground, the arrival of their primary insurance policy, Joe Root, should have settled them. Instead, he made an unusually skittish start.
He chased his first ball well wide of off stump on a hiding to nothing and was fortunate to hit fresh air.
Moments later he demanded a quick two off Zak Crawley’s bat and almost opened up a run out chance having yet to open his account.
When he did get off the mark it was in classic fashion, stroking a cover drive to the ropes to offer the crowd a much-needed release after just one boundary in the first 45 minutes.
That stroke, combined with a change of bowling, appeared to break the rhythm and the runs began to flow.
Not all of them were intentional, Crawley carving Scott Boland over the cordon and Root nicking four low past second slip, but Crawley also pinged Mitch Marsh for a pair of authoritative blows through point.
Crawley’s growing confidence cost him his wicket on 44, throwing himself into a drive off Marsh and feeding the edge through to Alex Carey.
At 93-3, both teams were moving towards their destinations and the balance of power was impossible to ascertain.
Brook set about nudging things in England’s favour, taking on Boland’s natural length and collecting three quick boundaries with the middle of the bat.
A stand of 38 with Root was beginning to give the chase a sense of security, but the latter was undone unexpectedly with the lunch break in sight.
Swivelling into a pull as the returning Cummins dragged one down, Root gloved it through to the keeper for a tame end 21.