England’s aggressive shotmaking was too much for Australia to handle, and the hosts surpassed Australia’s first-innings total, taking a significant lead of 67 runs.
Knowing that the weekend weather forecast predicted rain, England was well aware of the urgency to secure a win and level the series. They displayed a blistering performance of aggressive cricket, leaving Australia shellshocked.
Earlier in the day, England’s bowlers wrapped up Australia’s innings by taking the final two wickets, restricting them to 317 runs. Building on this strong bowling performance, Zak Crawley’s heroic innings, well-supported by Moeen Ali (54) and Joe Root (84), allowed him to become the leading run-scorer of the series.
England’s hero from the last Test, Harry Brook, and captain Ben Stokes kept the boundaries flowing to extend the lead and they will look to ramp things up even more on Friday as England look to secure a quick-fire success.
There was little hint of the rush of runs to come as England reached lunch on 61-1 off 16 overs after the early loss of Ben Duckett.
Yet at tea they were 239-2, having scored 178 runs in just 25 overs during the second session.
Crawley himself became just the sixth England batsman to score a hundred runs in a session of an Ashes Test as he advanced from 26 not out to 132 not out.
The runs kept on coming after tea as Crawley extended his fourth hundred in 38 Tests to beyond 150 with two superb straight-driven boundaries off successive deliveries from Australia captain Pat Cummins.
England’s rapid run-scoring was a potential insurance policy amid fears that rain forecast for the weekend could scupper their push for a win.
But with Crawley in sight of a second Test double century following his 267 against Pakistan at Southampton three years ago and Cummins running out of ideas, he chopped on to all-rounder Cameron Green.
It was the end of a remarkable innings where the often inconsistent 25-year-old scored at better than a run-a-ball, facing 182 deliveries including 21 fours and three sixes.
England’s 336-3 soon became 351-4 when Root was bowled for 84 by a Josh Hazlewood ball that kept exceptionally low — a worrying sight for Australia, bidding for a first Ashes series win in England since 2001, as much as the hosts.
By contrast, Stokes was then hit on the helmet by a Hazlewood delivery that reared off a length.
Australia’s woes were compounded when Starc, who led their attack with 2-74 from 15 overs, left the field after landing heavily on his left shoulder making a diving stop at mid-on.
Both Crawley and Moeen, in red-ball retirement until the start of this series and only batting at number No 3 following Ollie Pope’s season-ending shoulder injury in the second Test at Lord’s, rode their luck against Australia’s quicks.
Two successive deliveries on Thursday summed up Moeen’s innings as he became just the fourth England player after Ian Botham, Andrew Flintoff and current team-mate Stuart Broad to complete the Test ‘double’ of 3,000 runs and 200 wickets.
Moeen luckily edged fast bowler Cummins past gully for four before driving his next ball for an elegant boundary.
Crawley had made 20 when lbw to Cameron Green, but the batsman’s review indicated the ball would have missed leg stump.
Part-time off-spinner Travis Head was removed from the attack following an expensive 0-48 in six overs that included being swept for six by Crawley after Australia had dropped Todd Murphy — the first time in 11 years they were without a specialist spinner in a Test.
Moeen, having exceeded many pre-match expectations, was dropped on 53 before falling for 54, well caught by a diving Usman Khawaja following a fierce pull off Starc.
Crawley entered the 90s with a slashed cut off Starc that sped to the third man rope before reaching 97 with a textbook cover-driven four off the left-arm quick.
A more sedate two off Cummins took the 25-year-old Crawley, a standard-bearer for England’s aggressive ‘Bazball’ style under Stokes and red-ball coach Brendon McCullum, to a 93-ball century. The Kent batsman’s second fifty had come in just 26 balls.
Earlier, Australia were bowled out after resuming on 299-8, with none of their batsmen made more than the 51 achieved by both Marnus Labuschagne and all-rounder Marsh.
Chris Woakes wrapped up the innings to finish with 5-62 — his first five-wicket Ashes haul.
(With AFP Inputs)
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