Poms believe in miracles, but test against new ball awaits
THE Ashes could be decided eight overs into day four at Headingley with the new ball set to provide Australia's best hope of dismantling an opposition starting to believe in miracles.
Stubborn resistance from England has turned to excitement on a pitch getting flatter by the day and the home team is not just hoping for a miracle win but confident it will happen.
Time has become irrelevant with the match set to to end one way or another on what's set to be a hot, sunny Leeds Sunday.
England still requires 203 to keep the fight for the Ashes urn alive, and batsman Joe Denly said with so many World Cup winners in their side they "have the players to do it".
But Australia requires just seven good balls to ensure it goes home with them.
After taking just three wickets through 72 overs of day three toil, the tourists know one wicket could quickly become three against a team they rolled for just 67 on day two.
That makes the new ball, in the hands of an attack freshened by a night's sleep, their best weapon to break through the England wall.
"If we show the same discipline we did today with the new ball, we will definitely reap the rewards," Australian batsman Marnus Labuschagne, who made 80 to help set the monster target, said after an long, hot day's play.
"That's how it works over here - you always find that there's big partnerships but then there's one, two, three wickets. It can happen very quickly."
Disciplined bowling was the key to staying in the game and limiting England's run-scoring should again be crucial to the wicket-taking plan.
Josh Hazlewood was particularly outstanding on day three. His 2-34 from 18 overs of accuracy is the benchmark for what Australia needs to roll through the remaining English batsmen.
"So that's why you've just got to make sure you shut that scoreboard down, make sure you keep the pressure on, because when you lose one or two wickets all of a sudden the scoreboard can look a lot different, you add two wickets to it," Labuschagne said,
"That'll be what we're trying to do tomorrow, trying to make sure we're shutting down the scoreboard and making sure we're bowling balls in good areas with that new ball."
Despite going without a wicket in his 21 overs, Australian spinner Nathan Lyon showed with a late spell full of chances that he too could play a leading role.
His last nine overs went for just 10 runs as he and Hazlewood applied the sort of pressure that Australia will have to maintain for as long as possible to keep their team's Ashes ambitions alive.
"He was phenomenal there especially with Josh and that partnership to get Joe (Denly) out. The pressure you build - that's Test cricket isn't it," Labuschagne said.
"It's hard work, you build up, it's a 15-over plan to work over, make sure you're challenging the edge, both edges for Lyon and then we got the reward there at the end. We're just going to have to do more of that tomorrow."