MANCHESTER (Reuters) - Australian paceman Josh Hazlewood ripped through England with three crucial late wickets in the final session to leave Joe Root’s side trailing by 297 runs on 200-5 in their first innings after the third day of the fourth Ashes test on Friday.
England still need 98 runs to avoid following on and that will be no formality after Hazlewood undid so much of the good work from Rory Burns (81) and Joe Root (71) earlier in the day.
The five-match series is standing at 1-1 and victory for Australia, who declared their first innings on 497-8, would ensure they retain The Ashes ahead of the final test at the Oval next week.
Tim Paine’s side will surely fancy their chances of achieving in Manchester what slipped through their hands at Headingley while England need to stem the tourists’ momentum on Saturday and give themselves a chance of saving the test on Sunday.
Heavy rain wiped out the entire morning session at Old Trafford and England quickly lost nightwatchman Craig Overton — who was caught by first innings double centurion Steve Smith at second slip off Hazlewood.
The Burns-Root pairing put on 141 for the third wicket before Hazlewood removed Burns with a fine delivery that was edged to a gleeful Smith.
Burns had looked confident throughout an impressive innings in which he picked up his third score of fifty or over in this series, taking advantage of Australia’s over-reliance on short-pitched deliveries.
He then showed tenacity to deal with Pat Cummins, who received no reward for a 10-over spell where he combined hostility with spot-on line and length.
The nearest Cummins came to a breakthrough was when Root edged him between keeper Paine and David Warner at first slip.
It was Hazlewood who got Root out — making it two wickets in 11 balls — rapping him on the pads with the England skipper’s dejected expression removing any need for a review.
Jason Roy, demoted from the opener slot, was joined by Ben Stokes and England badly needed a lengthy partnership from the two strokeplayers, but Hazlewood had other ideas.
The bowler removed Roy’s middle stump clean out of the ground with another delivery that nipped back off the seam and the jubilant response of the Australians in the field illustrated the significance of the wicket.
It was a devastating spell of 3-15 in 27 balls from the 28-year-old and one which will leave England, whose attack struggled to penetrate, wondering what bowler James Anderson might have been able to provide for them had he not been injured.
The surface may be a good batting track but Hazlewood and Cummins managed to extract just enough movement and the occasional sharp lift to trouble England in a way that only Stuart Broad got close to for the hosts.
Hazlewood ended the day with figures of 4-48 after bad light cut play short, to the relief of batsmen Stokes and Jonny Bairstow.
“It makes me happy when Josh comes on and takes wickets at the other end straight away,” said Cummins.
“We are pretty happy being (nearly) 300 ahead. It was a tough day of test cricket. To get those three wickets late, we feel really in the game.”
Burns provided evidence that England may have found at least one opening batsman during this series but with those who followed him unable to show similar resilience, he was left hoping for another, Headingley-style, comeback.
“The way that game went, I think anything is possible. We are not that far behind in this fixture. We are a couple of partnerships away from making them make a play again. It is about putting pressure back on them and playing well tomorrow,” he said.
Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Christian Radnedge and Toby Davis