Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Joe Denly falls agonisingly short of first century as England take control of final Ashes Test

Batsman, who has just celebrated the birth of his second child, scores 94 as home side lead by 382 runs at The Oval

Joe Denly missed out on celebrating the arrival of his baby daughter with a maiden Test century, but he did all but secure his immediate future as a Test cricketer on Day 3 at The Oval.

Twenty-four hours earlier, Denly had been a late arrival at the ground as he made his way up through London after attending the birth of his second child.

After the joy of Friday, Saturday was all about business. England had a Test match to win, and Denly had a career to safeguard.

The 33-year-old batsman had played two courageous innings in the two preceding Ashes Tests. And yet doubts continued to persist over his long-term prospects opening the innings for England.

Starting out on one not out on the third day of the final Test – which England need to win to halve the series – he knew he needed a significant score.

He delivered it – even if he did fall just short of his first hundred in Test cricket. On the 206th ball he faced, with three figures just one blow away, he edged an outswinger from Peter Siddle to Steve Smith and fell for 94.

Denly said: "Against this attack it is always a battle. You have to work hard for every run. I am naturally disappointed not to get to the milestone but we are in a great position going into day four and that is the most important thing.

"I haven't done a great deal of opening in the last few years. I am still learning and still improving.

"The disappointment of the of series is getting a few starts and finding ways to get out. Hopefully, if I play more Test cricket I will keep learning and improving and the big scores will come."

Sentiment aside, his vigil had been just what his side had required.

First, he had shared an alliance worth 54 with Rory Burns. Remarkably, that was the first time either side had registered a half-century opening stand in the series so far – at the 19th attempt.

After setting the platform, he then consolidated England’s position when he put on 127 with Ben Stokes for the third wicket.

Stokes, for his part, must have been sizing up a third century of the series, to end an extraordinary summer of achievement on another high.

He was at his belligerent best as he hit two eye-catching sixes in reaching 67, only to be bowled by a sharp-turning off-break from Nathan Lyon, who was the pick of Australia’s bowlers with three for 65.

While the dismissal curtailed the fun for Stokes and the majority of supporters packed into The Oval, the home team will not have been unduly perturbed by the nature of it.

The fact the ball spun markedly off the pitch should bode well for the hosts as they push for victory over the final two days of the Test.

In particular, left-arm spinner Jack Leach will be hopeful he can have a say in the series with the ball for once, having become a cult hero for his tail-end batting previously.

He and England will have some runs to play with. With Jos Buttler adding 47 to the 70 he made in the first innings, the home team closed the day on 313 for eight.

Added on to the 69-run lead they carried over from the first innings, it means Australia will already require 383 to win the Test match. That exceeds the tally England made – 362 for nine – to win the dramatic third Test at Headingley.

As daunting a prospect as that might be for Australia, they will certainly carry some hope into the final act of this series. Not least because they have Smith in their ranks.

Even without a bat in his hand, the record-breaking Smith was proving he is still seeing the ball better than anyone else with a masterclass of slip-catching on Day 3.

He dismissed Denly and Joe Root with fine low catches, then late in the evening session took a spectacular one to remove Chris Woakes off the bowling of Mitchell Marsh, diving one handed full length to his right.

Marnus Labuschagne did as he has done all through this series, and did his best to mimic Smith, as he took a fine diving catch to get Buttler off the very next delivery.

Updated: September 14, 2019 09:52 PM

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