Wood gives England hope in battle against weather

Fourth LV= Insurance Ashes Test, Emirates Old Trafford (day three of five):
Australia 317 (Labuschagne 51, Marsh 51; Woakes 5-62) & 113-4 (Labuschagne 44*; Wood 3-17)
England 592 (Crawley 189, Bairstow 99; Hazlewood 5-126)
Australia are 162 runs behind

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 at the end of day three, 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.

  • Reaction to day three at Old Trafford

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.

Brilliant Bairstow toys with Australians

From a platform of 384-4 overnight, England were looking to push forward on Friday morning. Though they added 122 runs in the morning session, it was not the out and out carnage that could have materialised.

Brook and Stokes, resuming on 14 and 24 respectively, helped themselves to half-centuries but, with the field back and ball soft, boundaries were hard to come by. When Australia took the second new ball some 10 overs after it became available, Josh Hazlewood removed Brook and Woakes with successive deliveries.

It was only when last man Anderson joined Bairstow, who at that point was 49 from 50 balls, did the fun really begin.

Bairstow went to 50 by pulling Mitchell Starc for six and the assault was on. Australia spread all nine fielders to the boundary and, just as they did on Thursday, lost control.

In an attempt to farm the strike, Bairstow three times pinched a bye to wicketkeeper Alex Carey, a measure of revenge for Carey’s controversial stumping in the second Test at Lord’s.

Bairstow belted three more sixes, one a huge wallop over mid-wicket off Cummins. He took 50 runs off the last 31 balls he faced, with Anderson bravely fending off bouncers and even swiping a four of his own.

With Bairstow on 98, he looked for the two to take him to three figures, only to send Anderson back. Next ball, Anderson was palpably leg before to Green, leaving Bairstow as the first England batter stranded on 99 in a Test since Alex Tudor 24 years ago.

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