Stuart Broad made a shock announcement that he is retiring from cricket after the end of the Ashes as England took a giant stride towards levelling the series against Australia on Saturday.
England, in a game they must win to pull level at 2-2, were 389-9 in their second innings at stumps on the third day of the fifth Test at The Oval – a commanding lead of 377 runs.
Broad’s announcement overshadowed a stunning batting display by the home team, led by Yorkshiremen Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow.
Root (91) and Bairstow (78) were both in superb touch during a fifth-wicket stand of 110 as they put Australia’s bowlers to the sword.
A late flurry of wickets, with Mitchell Starc taking 4-94 after a pounding by England’s top order, gave Australia a glimmer of hope.
But some of the biggest cheers of the day came when last man James Anderson produced a cameo knock, scoring two boundaries.
England’s advantage means Australia already have to achieve what would be the joint eighth-highest total to win in the fourth innings of a Test if they are to pull off an improbable victory.
Minutes after play finished in the London evening sunshine, paceman Broad told Sky Sports he was hanging up his spikes.
The 37-year-old seamer, the fifth most successful bowler in Test history with 602 wickets, said: “Tomorrow (Sunday) or Monday will be my last game of cricket.
“It has been a wonderful ride and a huge privilege to wear the Nottinghamshire and England badge as much as I have.”
He added: “I am loving cricket as much as I ever have. I have always wanted to finish at the top and this series feels like one of the most enjoyable and entertaining I have been a part of.”
Earlier, an opening stand of 79 between Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett (42) ended when Duckett edged a full-length delivery from Starc to wicketkeeper Alex Carey.
Crawley went on to reach 73 in just 76 balls, combining well with skipper Ben Stokes, who had promoted himself up the order.
Moeen Ali was ruled out of batting in his number three position after being off the field all day Friday with a groin injury.
Stokes was caught by Australia captain Pat Cummins off spinner Todd Murphy for 42 and Harry Brook fell cheaply to leave England 222-4.
However, Root was in imperious form, demonstrating the full range of his strokeplay, including a reverse scoop off Mitchell Marsh for a superbly timed six.
‘Still in the game’
But there was no second century of the series for Root, who was bowled between bat and pad by a Murphy off-break that kept low.
Bairstow, one of the stars of the ‘Bazball’ era, fresh from his blistering 99 not out in last week’s rain-marred drawn fourth Test at Old Trafford, also fell short of three figures when he flat-footedly cut at left-arm fast bowler Starc and was caught behind for 78 off 103 balls.
There was a clatter of wickets as Chris Woakes, Moeen and Mark Wood were dismissed before Anderson (eight not out) joined Broad (two not out) at the crease.
Broad said England could finish the series on a high.
“We’ve got some great memories of winning series here,” he said. “Obviously we’re not going to win this series, but we can still finish with a brilliant result here.
“I think ultimately if we can get this series to 2-2 we can hold our heads up very high to how we’ve gone about it.”
Australia, as the holders, have already retained the Ashes, at 2-1 up.
But they must avoid defeat at The Oval if they are to win their first Ashes series in England since 2001.
The tourists still believe they can come out on top despite their daunting challenge.
“We knew England were going to come out today and put the pressure on us and they did, they batted really well, but we’re definitely still in the game,” said Murphy.