Ashes: Wood’s fiery burst leaves Australia reeling after Bairstow’s 99*
SUMMARY: Australia 317 all out from 90.2 overs (Mitchell Marsh 51, Marnus Labuschagne 51, Travis Head 48; Chris Woakes 5-62) and 113-4 from 41 overs (Marnus Labuschagne 44*; Mark Wood 3-17) vs England 592 all out from 107.4 overs (Zak Crawley 189, Jonny Bairstow 99*, Joe Root 84, Harry Brook 61, Moeen Ali 54, Ben Stokes 51; Josh Hazlewood 5-126)
Mark Wood struck crucial late blows in England’s battle against Australia and the Manchester weather in the fourth Ashes Test at Old Trafford.
Wood, bowling with high pace and hostility, snared 3-17 to leave Australia 113-4, a considerable 162 runs behind.
In any other circumstances, England would be huge favourites, yet heavy rain is forecast for the weekend – particularly Saturday’s fourth day.
The home side’s strong position was forged by piling up 592, their highest total in a home Ashes Test since 1985, to take a first-innings lead of 275.
Harry Brook made 61 and Ben Stokes 51, but the real pyrotechnics came from Jonny Bairstow, who clobbered a thrilling 99 not out.
Bairstow added 66 in a riotous last-wicket partnership with James Anderson and was only denied a deserved hundred when Anderson was lbw to Cameron Green.
At 2-1 up in the series and knowing a draw is enough to retain the Ashes, Australia are batting for time and the rain. They lost openers Usman Khawaja and David Warner to Wood and Chris Woakes respectively.
Stubborn pair Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith quietened the crowd before Wood had Smith caught hooking and bounced out Travis Head.
Labuschagne remains unbeaten on 44, an obstacle as large as the weather in the home side’s bid to continue an unprecedented English comeback from 2-0 down in an Ashes series.
England weigh up weather conundrum
Ordinarily, England would be well on course for a series-levelling victory, but could face a race against time win their first Ashes Test on this ground since 1981. If the weather forecast is to be believed, Saturday is a washout and Sunday curtailed.
All of this would have been factored into their approach with the bat on Friday. Their stated aim was to get as many runs as possible in the first innings, the theory being that would be the quickest way to win and it is easier to score runs in the first innings than in a tricky second-innings chase.
Whether or not England batted too long will only be revealed over the next two days. Their innings did not end until nearly 15:00 BST – later than most would have expected at the beginning of the day.
In that time, there was further evidence that Australia have had their minds frazzled by England’s aggression. Ambitions of winning the match were abandoned by the first ball of the day; there was noticeable frustration at Pat Cummins’ tactics and the chaos caused by Bairstow and Anderson was comical.
England find themselves 2-1 down because of the mistakes they made in the first two Tests, but have been superb at Old Trafford to engineer the chance of victory.
They now look the superior team and, regardless of the outcome of this match, will go to The Oval as favourites to win the final Test.
Wood and Woakes strike vital blows
Even if England are set to be hampered by the weather, they will take encouragement from a pitch that is showing increasing evidence of uneven bounce.
They were times when Australia were settled – the mini partnerships between Khawaja and Warner, then Labuschangne and Smith – but Wood and Woakes have been difference-makers since coming into the England side for the third Test.
Wood needed only two deliveries to have Khawaja poking an edge behind, while Woakes caused enough uncertainty for Warner to play on to his own stumps.
Woakes almost had Smith without scoring, only for the third umpire to adjudge an edge had not carried to Joe Root at first slip.
Just as Smith was starting to look ominous, Wood switched ends and cranked up the velocity. Smith’s top edge to Bairstow was Wood’s 100th Test wicket before Head, never comfortable against the short ball, gloved a catch to gully from a 91mph delivery.
Labuschagne was joined by Mitchell Marsh, who defended 27 balls for his one not out. (BBC Sport)