Australia moved within four wickets of victory in the second Test and a 2-0 Ashes series lead after ending Joe Root’s defiant innings yesterday and exposing the England lower order once again to a barrage of short-pitch bowling.
Set an improbable 531 to win when Australia declared its second innings at 132-3 before play resumed on day four, England lost captain Alastair Cook (1) in the second over and struggled to 247-6 at stumps.
Root (87) and Kevin Pietersen (53) shared a defiant 111-run partnership and Ben Stokes contributed 28 batting at No. 6 in his first Test to help England force a fifth day.
With the lights on in overcast conditions and the crowd clapping in time with Mitchell Johnson’s run-up, Matt Prior (31) and Stuart Broad (22) batted resolutely to add an unbeaten 37 runs in a temper-fraying last six overs against the new ball to ensure the Australian paceman was restricted to just the one wicket on day four.
Also on the positive side for the English, it was the first time in the series that they put on more than 180 runs in an innings. With rain in the forecast for today, it may help them avoid another defeat.
Despite their strong position, Australia will be nervous about the forecast in Adelaide, where they failed to finish off South Africa by two wickets in November last year.
“The big factor is going to be the new ball. It’s only 10 overs old, so we’re going to have a good crack at that early on,” said Peter Siddle, who led Australia with 2-21.
Prior also has form in the match-saving stakes, having forced a draw and salvaged the series with his unbeaten 110 against New Zealand on the last day at Eden Park in March.
However, he and Broad also had some close shaves in the last few overs, with Prior leaving a ball that narrowly missed his off stump, and Broad being hit in the shoulder by a bouncer from Johnson.
The 22-year-old Root batted courageously as the top order crumbled, but fell short of his century when he played back to a Nathan Lyon delivery and wicketkeeper Brad Haddin dove forward to take his 200th catch in Test cricket.
Promoted to bat at No. 3 after Jonathan Trott quit the tour with a stress-related illness following the 381-run first Test defeat, Root faced 194 balls and hit nine boundaries to hold up the Australian charge on a cloudy, but ultimately rain-free day.
The early departures of Cook and Michael Carberry (14) were offset by the stand between Root and Pietersen — England’s first century partnership of the series — that took the total from 20-2 to 131-3.
The removal of Pietersen and Ian Bell (6) between lunch and tea was another setback for England.
Pietersen played with rare restraint, and was dismissed by Siddle for the ninth time in his career — more than any other bowler in Test cricket.