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Usman Khawaja, David Warner lay base for series-sealing chase with unbeaten century stand

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Australia 295 and 135 for 0 (Khawaja 69*, Warner 58) need another 249 runs to beat England 283 and 395 (Root 91, Bairstow 78, Crawley 73, Starc 4-100, Murphy 4-110)

A day which started with Stuart Broad receiving a guard of honour from the Australians following his retirement announcement the previous night, ended with David Warner and Usman Khawaja having given them a terrific base from a where an unlikely target of 384 appeared achievable at The Oval.

In all, only 40 overs were possible on the fourth day before rain closed in, but they went almost entirely Australia’s way. When the rain arrived, at drinks in the afternoon session, they needed a further 249 runs to take the series 3-1 and weather permitting will have 98 overs on the final day.

After walking through the line-up of Australian players, Broad faced the first over the day from Mitchell Starc and somewhat comically farmed the strike for five balls before launching the last six off his Test career over deep midwicket. James Anderson, too, declined a single when he reverse-swept Todd Murphy and was then lbw missing another three balls later.

And so, the final innings of this enthralling series began with Australia needing what would be their second-highest successful chase in history to secure a first series win in England since 2001. It felt a long way off when Warner and Khawaja first walked to the crease, but significantly closer when they headed off for the final time in the day.

They compiled Australia’s first century opening stand in England since Warner and Chris Rogers added 110 at The Oval in 2015. Khawaja, meanwhile, crossed 5000 Test runs and is all-but assured of finishing the series as the leading run-scorer. His average as an opener stood at 62.10 and as of the close of play, that was the highest for an opener with a minimum of 20 innings.

Broad, with the crowd in full voice behind him, took the first over of the innings from the Pavilion End but except for one thick edge by Warner, which fell short of Ben Duckett at third slip, there were precious few uneasy moments in an underwhelming three-over burst. In fact, the whole bowling effort from England soon felt oddly flat.

Anderson helped build a little pressure as three consecutive maidens were sent down, but a drive from Warner and two boundaries in a row by Khawaja punctured that. Moeen Ali, defying his groin injury, was introduced for the 10th over and though there was some assistance from the pitch he served up enough loose deliveries to keep the scoreboard ticking.

Broad returned to no avail but the seamers were able to keep a lid on the scoring. Joe Root bowled ahead of Moeen either side of lunch and did a serviceable job until his ninth over cost 13, including a slog-sweep from an increasingly assured Warner.

A few overs earlier, Warner had dismissively launched Anderson over mid-off and then managed to guide an accidental beamer down to third as he ended flat on his back in the crease.

The pitch appeared to lose most of its life from the earlier days and many of England’s tactics resembled those seen on slower subcontinental surfaces with a ring of catchers in front of the batter and the quicks using cutters to try and make the ball move.

There were questions raised about the delayed entry into the attack of Mark Wood who was not used until the 33rd over with Australia 99 without loss. His introduction brought a roar almost as big as those to greet Broad earlier and his pace, even though not at the levels of Headingley or Old Trafford, made Warner and Khawaja hop around more than had previously been the case.

Two thick edges from Khawaja ran through the cordon down to deep third, between which he was stuck on the back of the helmet as he ducked a short ball. A new helmet was needed (so new that the manufacturer’s label had to be removed) and the end of a lively over saw a leading edge pop safely into the off side.

There was only time for one more over before the rain closed in from the west. Played was abandoned shortly before 5pm leaving an enticing scenario for the final day of a series that has rarely been anything less than gripping.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo



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