Joe Denly and Ben Stokes tighten England’s grip over Australia in final Ashes Test
Joe Denly fell agonisingly short of a maiden Test century but still helped England tighten their grip on the fifth Ashes Test against Australia at The Oval.
England opener Denly made 94 and shared a 127-run partnership with Ben Stokes (67) as the hosts reached 318-8 by the close of play on day three, with a lead of 382.
Australia rallied in the evening session – with Steve Smith and Marnus Labushcange both taking brilliant catches – but still face a huge task to avoid a defeat which would see England salvage a 2-2 draw in the Ashes.
Finding themselves behind in the game at the start of play on day three, Australia desperately searched for quick wickets this morning but they found resolute resistance from England openers Denly and Rory Burns.
The pair put on 54 – the highest opening stand of the series – before Burns, on 20, attempted to cut Nathan Lyon to the boundary but only managed to nick off to Tim Paine.
On a day three pitch already offering considerable spin, Denly took the attack to Australia and Lyon, smashing the off-spinner for three quick boundaries, including a maximum down the ground.
Joe Root also found some fluency, moving into the 20s, before tamely prodding forward and feathering a catch to Smith at slip to hand Lyon his second wicket of the morning.
Despite losing their captain before lunch, England remained in a strong position with their lead already above 150, but the home fans were relieved to see Smith put down a tough chance to dismiss Stokes when he was still in single figures.
Stokes has been England’s best batsman across all formats this summer and made Smith and Australia pay by establishing a significant partnership with Denly, who moved to his third fifty of the series.
Stokes soon followed suit, acknowledging his half-century after sweeping Lyon into the stands.
Australia have used their reviews poorly this summer and Denly was handed a reprieve when Paine failed to send a LBW decision upstairs off Mitchell Marsh, who claimed a five-wicket haul in the first innings of this match.
Thwarting Australia in the afternoon session, England were 193-2 at tea but lost Stokes soon into the evening session, Lyon picking up his third scalp after bowling the all-rounder with a superb delivery.
Denly, 33, was closing in on a first Test century but fell six runs short, Peter Siddle dismissing England’s top run-scorer
Jos Buttler and Sam Curran then took the attack to Australia before the latter, who claimed three wickets on day two with his left-arm pace, fell to the second new ball and Pat Cummins.
Chris Woakes only made six before being superbly caught by a diving Smith, and Buttler was caught by Labuschange off the next delivery as England slipped to 305-8.
But despite the flurry of wickets in the evening session, England still finished day three well on top, with their lead almost at 400 with two days of the match remaining.