England surge into pole position to win final Test and level Ashes series

England put themselves in pole position for an Ashes-levelling win in the fifth and final Test, leaving Australia a record chase after another display of ‘Bazball’ bravado at the Kia Oval.

The hosts turned in a swaggering attacking performance on day three in south London, clattering their way to 389 for nine as they ushered an enthralling series towards its end game.

Joe Root cracked 91 before being undone by a shooter, Zak Crawley signed off a fine summer with a vibrant 73 and Jonny Bairstow clubbed 78 as the tourists chased leather for 80 overs.

It was a fitting way for England’s batting unit to bow out after six weeks of fearless – and often reckless – hitting with 48 boundaries and three sixes.

Australia have already retained the urn thanks to their 2-1 lead but face a mountainous battle if they are to land a first outright win on these shores in 22 years.

Stuart Broad, England’s second-highest Test wicket-taker of all time, announced after the match that he would be retiring from all cricket at the end of this match.

They are already 377 behind on a ground where the highest fourth-innings pursuit sits at 263, while Donald Bradman’s ‘Invincibles’ are the only Australian team to have chased more.

They established a slender lead of 12 before being bowled out in the final act of day two, an advantage that lasted precisely an over.

The first ball of the day was a wide half-volley from Mitchell Starc, practically begging to be crashed through the covers for four. Crawley had done exactly that to the opening ball of the series back at Edgbaston and needed no encouragement to repeat the stroke.

A single and two boundaries from Ben Duckett followed in quick succession, clearing the deficit in six balls. For an Australia side who had scraped just 13 runs off the bat in a soporific first hour on the second day, England’s self-assured start seemed disorientating.

Starc was hauled off after shipping 22 from two overs – a poor spell even by T20 standards, let alone an Ashes Test – with Australia unable to plug the scoring. England reached 50 in 8.4 overs, with Duckett collecting seven fours.

The touring attack were light on ideas but finally made a breakthrough with 79 on the board, when the returning Starc had Duckett (42) caught behind off a thin edge. England were not allowed to send out Moeen Ali due to time spent off the field with a groin injury, leaving Ben Stokes to become his side’s fourth number three of the series.

Any hopes of the wicket allowing Australia to reset crumbled upon contact as Crawley stepped out of Duckett’s shadow and began to dictate terms. He took a liking to Todd Murphy, easing through his arsenal of sweeps and off drives to leave the spinner unsure of what line to bowl.

With Starc continuing to be costly, England romped along to 130 for one at lunch with Stokes an unlikely anchor as Crawley freed his arms. The Durham man is nobody’s idea of a wallflower, though, and he shifted gears abruptly by hooking Josh Hazlewood’s third ball of the afternoon for six.

His immediate reaction suggested Stokes was worried, but Starc could do no more than paw it over the ropes at fine-leg. Crawley was in sight of reaching 500 runs for the series, a landmark few would have tipped him to get close to at the start, but fell 20 short when he drove slightly lazily at a Pat Cummins delivery that shaped away.

That was the first of three wickets in the session, though it would be hard to call it a comeback. Stokes made 42 before hacking Murphy to mid-on and Harry Brook hit one huge straight six before nicking Hazlewood behind, but this was Root’s time to take the spotlight.

After surviving a marginal lbw shout on four, he came to life. Mitch Marsh was reverse ramped for six over third man, a party trick that never loses its sparkle, and flicked fine to fine-leg when he straightened up in response.

Starc, meanwhile, coughed up three consecutive boundaries culminating in a loose-limbed uppercut. Root’s half-century took just 42 deliveries and by the time tea arrived, he and Bairstow had already pushed the lead past 250.

Bairstow seemed particularly hungry to hurry along, depositing Murphy through the covers and popping him back over his head, then tucking into his favourite cut shot to give Hazlewood a dose.

By the time his frenzy took the fifth-wicket stand to 100, he had scored 70 of them. Root was quietly making his way towards his own century, an apparent inevitability until he was cut off by a grubber from Murphy.

The bowler can take credit for generating some handy turn, but Root had no chance as the ball skidded into his stumps off the toe end. Bairstow followed with a flat-footed poke at Starc and the innings wound to an end in a flurry of activity.

The ailing Moeen made an enjoyable 29 in what is surely his final Test innings, but joined Chris Woakes and Mark Wood in donating his wicket chasing quick runs at the close.

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