Jittery England was rocking on 35-3 at lunch on the final day of the third Ashes Test as Australia scrapped to secure a series-saving victory at Old Trafford on Monday.
Australia declared overnight on 172-7 setting England a target of 332 to win and Ryan Harris removed Alastair Cook (0) and Jonathan Trott (11) before Kevin Pietersen (8) fell to Peter Siddle in a tense opening session.
Joe Root was on 13 and Ian Bell on 2.
Play began 30 minutes late because of overnight rain but widespread forecasts of persistent showers were proving wide of the mark. Twenty minutes were lost after lunch because of a brief shower, reducing the maximum allocation of overs for the day to 98, but play restarted at 2 pm local time.
The floodlights were on as a fired-up Harris bowled the first over in front of a sparsely populated crowd and it wasn’t just spectators who appeared to be caught unaware by how the weather had turned out.
Former England captains Ian Botham and Andrew Strauss, commentating on Sky Sports, claimed the England team turned up late to the ground and weren’t expecting to bat in the morning because of the grim forecast.
In fact, the sun was poking out from beneath a full cloud covering when Cook was trapped lbw by Harris in the 15th ball of the innings. The England captain wasted a review, as replays showed he was clearly out.
England was on the defensive Root took 26 balls to get off the mark and Trott narrowly survived an lbw review from Harris before his sketchy innings came to an end when he glanced a leg-side edge to wicketkeeper Brad Haddin. The score was 15-2 after an hour’s play and Australia was scenting a chance.
Pietersen was England’s star act in the first innings with a dazzling 113 but after one classy pull for four, he was dropped at second slip by Michael Clarke before eventually departing when he edged behind for Haddin’s seventh catch of the match. With Pietersen referring the call to DRS before heading back to the pavilion after audio revealed a clear nick, both of England’s reviews were used up.
The result was in the balance, although that nagging threat of rain was still giving England some hope.