Australia’s Mitchell Starc yesterday took two wickets, including the prize scalp of Ben Stokes, as England desperately tried to avoid following-on in the fourth Test at Old Trafford.
England were 278-8 at lunch, 219 behind Australia’s first-innings 497-8 declared and needing 20 more runs to make the tourists bat again.
Left-arm fast bowler Starc, in his first match of this Ashes, had so far taken two wickets for 66 runs in 18 overs.
Jos Buttler was 26 not out and Stuart Broad two not out.
Victory for Australia in Manchester would see them retain the Ashes at 2-1 up with one to play in a five-Test series.
England resumed on 200-5, after Josh Hazlewood — a member of an impressive fast-bowling trio also featuring Starc and Pat Cummins — had rocked them with a burst of 3-15 late on Friday.
They had been making steady progress during a third-wicket partnership of 141 between Rory Burns (81) and captain Joe Root (71), but Hazlewood removed both batsmen before bowling Jason Roy to ensure Australia maintained the dominance established by Steve Smith’s double century on his Test return following concussion.
Stokes, whose unbeaten hundred had seen England to a dramatic one-wicket win in the third Test at Headingley, was seven not out and Jonny Bairstow unbeaten on two.
Australia were just six overs away from the new ball, which they duly took, and it had the desired effect as England lost three wickets in quick succession.
Starc dismissed Bairstow for 17 with a superb fast and swinging delivery that also cut off the seam to knock over the off and middle stumps as the batsman went for a booming drive — an all-too-familiar dismissal for the England wicketkeeper.
Starc then removed Stokes for just 26 when an excellent full-length delivery to the left-handed batsman cut away and took the outside edge, with Smith holding a safe catch at second slip.
England were now 243-7, still needing a further 56 runs to avoid the follow-on.
Jofra Archer gave his wicket away when caught behind by Australia captain and wicketkeeper Tim Paine with a loose waft off Cummins, who had been unlucky to go wicketless in a 17-over spell on Friday.
However, Cummins got England closer to avoiding the follow-on with a bouncer that cleared both Broad and the leaping Paine for five wides, before Buttler square-drove him for four.
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