Well, who saw that coming?

A day after being rolled for 67 England's batsmen remembered what this test cricket caper is all about, showing a backbone that was nowhere to be found in the first innings of the third Ashes test in Leeds.

The home side learnt from its day two horror show, putting up a determined display with the bat that has kept the faintest hopes of what would be its most remarkable test victory alive.

Needing 359 to win, England went to stumps at 156-3, crushing the dreams of Australian supporters who had turned up to Headingley on day three expecting to witness Tim Paine's men hold the urn aloft on English soil for the first time in 18 years.


But the champagne is still on ice after a dogged performance, led by under-fire captain Joe Root and, one of many scrapping for their test futures, Joe Denly.

After bowling Australia out for 246 – held up by Marnus Labuschagne's excellent 80, his third half century in a row since replacing Steve Smith in the side – the challenge in front of England was a daunting one. It has already exceeded many people's expectations by dragging the match into a fourth day – after all, who would have thought the Poms would still be standing after 72 overs in its second innings, having lasted just 27.5 overs in its first?

You would have been even braver to suggest England would be just three wickets down at the close after it slumped to 15-2 shortly after lunch. Rory Burns (7) edged Josh Hazlewood to the safe hands of David Warner at first slip, giving the Aussie opener his fifth catch in that position for the match, and Jason Roy's series from hell continued as he failed to make it to double figures for the fifth time in six attempts.

He got himself horribly tangled up trying to defend a Pat Cummins peach that angled in, seamed away and rocked his off stump on eight.

But Root and Denly were intent on restoring some of the pride that was washed away by England's worst batting performance in an Ashes test since 1948 and set about defying the Aussie bowlers. Root was back to somewhere near his best, hardly offering a chance as he scored predominantly off the back foot and defended or left anything in a dangerous area alone to finish the day unbeaten on 75.

Denly has reached double figures in each dig this series without getting past 30 but finally made a meaningful contribution despite some early jitters. He was cracked on the helmet by Cummins and played and missed several times when attempting loose cover drives that on another day may well have grazed his outside edge.

But the 33-year-old rode his luck and showed plenty of grit – as well as oodles of class when punching down the ground or pulling to the mid-wicket boundary – before the short ball brought him undone on 50.

His and Root's 126-run, third-wicket partnership was broken when Denly gloved a Hazlewood bouncer to Tim Paine, giving Australia the breakthrough it had been desperately searching for all afternoon.


The wicket was the result of sustained pressure from Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon up the other end. They strangled the English batsmen will perfect line and length bowling, conceding just a handful of runs in 10 overs before Denly fell.

Ben Stokes came in and was a different man to the one who was out slashing irresponsibly in the first innings, playing with a straight bat and defending almost everything that came down as he clawed his way to two from 50 balls.

England can pat itself on the bat for surviving the day and will enter day four needing 203 more runs for victory. It's a highly unlikely proposition – Australia is still the heavy favourite to win – and if the hosts want to square the series up at 1-1 they will have to make history.

Their highest ever fourth-innings run chase in England is the 315-4 they pulled off against the Aussies on this very ground back in 2001 when Mark Butcher scored a heroic 173 not out, while England's highest ever successful run chase in tests is its 322-7, also against Australia, in 1928.

The odds still point to Australia celebrating at the end of it all but stranger things have happened.