Zak Crawley’s super-charged 189 fuelled a dramatic England run spree on the second day of the must-win fourth Test at Old Trafford as Australia wilted in the face of an Ashes onslaught.
England were 384-4 at stumps on Thursday in reply to the tourists’ first-innings 317 with a lead of 67 runs.
The home team, who are 2-1 down with two matches to play in the five-game series, must win in Manchester to maintain their hopes of regaining the Ashes.
Crawley and Joe Root, who scored 84, shared a breathtaking partnership of 206 runs in just 29 overs.
That stand came after Crawley and Moeen Ali (54) had put on 121 for the second wicket.
At the end of day’s play, Harry Brook was 14 not out with England captain Ben Stokes remaining unbeaten on 24.
Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum have continually backed the inconsistent Crawley since joining forces last year. The Kent opener has become a standard-bearer for England’s aggressive ‘Bazball’ style.
“I rode my luck at times but hit some good shots along the way,” Crawley told Sky Sports.
“I do doubt myself at times but I have to say ‘keep being me’. That is the way I play.”
The batter, celebrating his first Ashes century, added: “They (Stokes and McCullum) tell me to go out and have an impact. Sometimes I am going to have streaks of low scores but thankfully today it came off.”
There was little hint of the flood of runs to come as England reached lunch on 61-1 off 16 overs following the early loss of Ben Duckett.
Yet at tea England were 239-2, having smashed 178 runs in just 25 overs during the second session.
Crawley himself became just the sixth England batter to score a hundred runs in a session of an Ashes Test as he advanced from 26 to 132.
“We had some clear plans to him (Crawley) but he was too good for us on a wicket like that today,” said Australia assistant coach Daniel Vettori.
“That period when he and Root got together, it was almost all-out attack,” the former New Zealand spinner added.
Crawley extended his fourth hundred in 38 Tests past 150 with two superb straight-driven boundaries off successive deliveries from Australia captain Pat Cummins.
But, in sight of a second Test double century, and with Cummins running out of ideas, Crawley chopped on to all-rounder Cameron Green.
It was the end of a remarkable innings in which the 25-year-old Crawley scored at better than run-a-ball, facing 182 deliveries, hitting 21 fours and three sixes.
England’s 336-3 became 351-4 when Root was bowled for 84 by a Josh Hazlewood ball that kept exceptionally low.
By contrast, Stokes was then hit on the helmet by a Hazlewood delivery that reared off a length.
Australia’s woes were compounded when Starc, who led their attack with 2-74 from 15 overs, left the field after landing heavily on his left shoulder making a diving stop.
Moeen, in red-ball retirement until the start of this series, earlier became just the fourth England player to complete the Test ‘double’ of 3,000 runs and 200 wickets.
He was caught for 54 by a diving Usman Khawaja from a fierce pull off Starc.
Travis Head’s part-time off-breaks yielded an expensive 0-48 in six overs. Australia had dropped Todd Murphy – the first time in 11 years they had no specialist spinner in a Test side.
In the morning, Australia were bowled out after resuming on 299-8, with none of their batters making more than the 51 achieved by both Marnus Labuschagne and all-rounder Mitchell Marsh.
Chris Woakes wrapped up the innings to finish with 5-62 – his first five-wicket Ashes haul.