Crucial century opening stand puts Australia in the box seat
David Warner and Chris Rogers’ century opening stand raised Australian hopes of a successful run chase at Chester-le-Street, which would narrow England’s Investec Test series lead to 2-1 with one to play.
The hosts already have the Ashes in safe keeping, having retained the urn with an unassailable lead after the drawn Test in Manchester.
But after being bowled out for 330 as Ryan Harris finished with career-best figures of seven for 117 on the fourth morning here, to set Australia 299 to win, England were unable to prevent the series’ first three-figure opening partnership as the tourists reached a teatime 120 for one.
On a surface with plenty of tricks in it by now, Australia seemed sure to face a tough task batting last as they try to stay in with a chance of levelling the score in these last two matches.
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But first-innings centurion Rogers and Warner gave them a major confidence boost with a stand of 109.
Rogers needed his fair share of fortune and, between the scores of three and 14, had four various scares.
He escaped a James Anderson review for lbw, then overturned another, looped a short delivery just short of Stuart Broad in his follow-through and was then dropped by Graeme Swann – diving to his right from second slip in front of first.
The last scrape was an uncanny repeat of a near identical incident in the first innings, with Tim Bresnan rather than Broad the bowler this time.
Warner (57no) completed his half-century from 74 balls when he timed Bresnan away off the back foot past cover for his eighth four to go with a six struck high over wide long-off from only the third ball bowled by England’s danger man Swann.
Rogers appeared set to follow his partner to 50 until he was caught at slip, one run short, when Swann got one to grip.
Harris had taken two wickets in two balls this morning, but Bresnan’s telling counter-attack helped England add a combined 66 for the eighth and ninth wickets.
Harris saw off first Ian Bell and then the out-of-form Matt Prior for a golden duck.
Both were bowled, Bell (113) off an inside-edge as he tried in vain to jam down on a delivery which kept devilishly low from a good length and Prior unluckily off his elbow.
Bresnan responded, however, with a sudden rush of boundaries – striking three in succession off Jackson Bird as 60 runs, and three wickets, came in the first 10 overs of the second new ball.
England are significantly indebted to Bell this summer, although he could add only eight today – having faced 210 balls and hit 11 fours, to take his series tally to exactly 500 runs.
Harris bounced out Broad, caught off his left glove in the gully, to end a breezy stand of 24 with Bresnan.
England’s nightwatchman might easily have gone already, for 12, when he played no shot to Bird. But Aleem Dar decided not-out lbw and Hawk-Eye concluded umpire’s call, the ball clipping the top of leg stump.
Bresnan was therefore still around to greet Broad, and then Swann for another partnership which hurt Australia.
He eventually became Harris’ seventh wicket, when he chipped back a caught-and-bowled. But there was more frustration still to come for Australia, when Steve Smith dropped Swann at long-on off Nathan Lyon (three for 55), costing them another 13 runs they could ill afford before Anderson was last out caught-behind off the off-spinner.