Chris Woakes and Travis Head star to leave England needing 251 to keep Ashes alive

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England 237 and 27 for 0 need 224 more runs to beat Australia 263 and 224 (Head 77, Khawaja 43, Broad 3-45, Woakes 3-68)

It took six hours to get there amid the rain, but the third day at Headingley produced an electrifying final session where both sides traded blows in their attempts to set up victory. England struck early through Chris Woakes, but Travis Head counterattacked with the final two wickets for company to leave a target of 251.

Faced with 25 minutes to see out the day, with the sun bursting through, Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett slashed 27 off the target while Australia also burned a review for a leg-side catch against Duckett. Last season England chased 296 against New Zealand and, of course, there needs little reminding of 2019 so they certainly won’t be overwhelmed by the pursuit. From where they were at lunch on the second day, 142 for 7 and trailing by 121, England would have gladly accepted this position.

After regular showers during the day, played eventually began at 4.45pm but only one over was possible initially before another brief stoppage. A further three overs were trimmed from the allocation, but what remained produced a further passage of gripping cricket in a series that has been compelling from the start.

It felt as though Woakes had made decisive blows when he claimed Mitchell Marsh and Alex Carey and when Pat Cummins fell to Mark Wood, Australia were 170 for 8, a lead of 196. Head was then able to add 54 in seven overs for the last two partnerships with what could prove one of the most important innings of Test career, in which he has already produced a series of match-changing and match-defining scores, albeit usually in the first innings to set up a game.

Woakes was tremendous when play resumed for the second time, finding the glove of Marsh, after he had again looked in excellent touch, when he tried to withdraw the bat. He soon added Carey, who had earlier been part of one of the more bizarre stories of the series involving false allegations of a non-paid haircut, as he also tried to leave the ball and played into his stumps.

While Wood’s return to the side has brought many of the headlines given the blistering pace, Woakes’ comeback has been equally impactful. His list of wickets in this match reads: Marnus Labuschagne, Usman Khawaja, Head, Marsh (twice) and Carey.

Mitchell Starc briefly played confidently before falling to Wood’s short ball, the top-edge spiralling backward of square where there was nearly a horrendous mix-up with Jonny Bairstow seemingly bailing out of the catch, leaving it to Harry Brook who sprinted from short leg and pulled out a full-length dive.

As he did in the first innings, Wood gave Cummins a brief and very effective working over and Head – who was 34 off 82 balls at the time – knew it was then time to change gear, although Murphy had cover-driven his first ball from Wood to the boundary.

In the next over, from Woakes, Head pulled and carved two boundaries then against Wood collected another brace which took him to fifty off 94 balls. England persisted with the short ball to Head, sometimes with nine men on the boundary, and it did not always look the most sensible approach, although when Woakes went to length he also got sent over midwicket for six.

Murphy was worked by a classy over from Broad when he returned from the Football Stand End, but there was time for Head to do some more damage. He pulled Wood for consecutive sixes over the leg side before falling attempting something similar off Broad which found deep midwicket.

Given their recent history, a chase of 251 is well within England’s reach but, with the Ashes on the line, surely there is a twist or two to come yet.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo

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