A sensational 189 from Zak Crawley, the highest score by an Englishman in a home Ashes clash in 26 years, helped the hosts post 384-4 to storm past Australia’s first innings total and lead by 67 after a remarkable day two of the fourth test.
With rain forecast over the weekend, England know they are in a race against time to get the win they need to level the series and they produced a blistering display of aggressive shotmaking that was too hot for a shellshocked Australia.
After taking the final two wickets to bowl Australia out for 317 at the start of the day, Crawley, ably supported by Moeen Ali (54) and Joe Root (84), became the series’ top runscorer with his huge knock.
In scenes rarely seen in this format of the game, England raced along, scoring at a rate of 5.33 per over, the fourth fastest ever, for an innings of five overs or more, against Australia by any side in test cricket history.
Crawley had only hit one six all series before coming to the crease on Thursday, but three hits sailed over the Old Trafford boundary, alongside 21 fours, scoring at over a run a ball throughout to swing the momentum once more in England’s favour
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.
Much was made of England’s aggressive ‘Bazball’ approach, with the style of play enjoying mixed results in this series, but having come off at Old Trafford, it has put the hosts in with a chance of keeping their Ashes dream alive.
England still had work to do early on with Australia resuming on 299-8, but veteran Jimmy Anderson, bowling from the end named after him at Old Trafford, had Pat Cummins caught off the very first ball of the day.
Chris Woakes removed Josh Hazlewood to finish things off to complete his five-wicket haul, but England’s reply got off to the worst possible start as opener Ben Duckett fell for just one before lunch.
Crawley, who lived a charmed life at times, led the counter attack, helping England plunder 178 runs in 25 overs in the afternoon session, storming to the fourth fastest hundred from an Englishman against Australia in test history off 93 balls.
Moeen passed 3000 test runs on the way to his half century, while Root’s 59th test 50 came in no time at all, with the 206-run third-wicket partnership with Crawley finally broken after he was bowled by a Hazlewood ball that kept low.
Stokes and Brook were more reserved in seeing England through to stumps, but the damage to a dejected Australia, who toiled all afternoon with very little reward, had been done.
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A draw or a win for Australia in Manchester will ensure they retain the Ashes, while victory for the hosts will level the series and take an exhilarating contest to a decider at the Oval in London next week.
The latter, thanks to Crawley’s big-hitting heroics and a extraordinary run rate, is now a real possibility, even if the rain does come.