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Australia loses top order to extend lead to 142

Travis Head and Mitch Marsh held off England to extend Australia’s fragile lead to 142 runs after two days of a third gripping Ashes test at Headingley on Friday.

Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith squandered a perfect batting track against a depleted England bowling attack by gifting their wickets after tea to Moeen Ali.

Head, on 18, and Marsh, on 17, scored 26 runs together in the last 12.1 overs to advance Australia to 116-4 in its second innings at stumps.

England was all out for 237 before tea after captain Ben Stokes muscled 80 runs and shepherded the tail to get them within 26 runs of Australia’s first total.

Australia captain Pat Cummins banked 6-91 for his maiden five-wicket haul in England.

Cummins is trying to help his side clinch the Ashes for the first time in England since 2001. England must win to stay alive.

Despite a flattening, sun-drenched pitch, wickets fell at a pace that suggested the match will not go the distance. Unsettled weather was forecast for the last three days.

England didn’t appear to miss pacer Ollie Robinson, who hasn’t bowled since a back spasm on Thursday.

David Warner nicked Stuart Broad to Zac Crawley in the cordon as he did in the first innings. Warner, on 1, fell to Broad for the 17th time, and third time in this series.

Usman Khawaja and Labuschagne settled in by tea and carried their partnership to a cushy 57 runs.

Then Labuschagne swung at the unlucky Mark Wood and was dropped behind by Jonny Bairstow. Bairstow’s embarrassment was short-lived as Labuschagne fell next ball for 33, lazily sweeping Ali to Harry Brook at deep midwicket.

Ali’s next over claimed Steve Smith, who chipped the spinner straight to Ben Duckett at midwicket on 2. That gave Ali his 200th career wicket, the third England spinner to the mark in the second match of his test return.

Ali missed the Lord’s test last week to let his right index finger recover from painful blisters at Edgbaston.

His two big wickets in two overs owed as much to Wood, who wasn’t as fast as he was on Thursday but fast enough to concede only 10 runs in an eight-over spell and frustrate Labuschagne and Smith into rash shots.

Khawaja was content to ride out Wood but in trying to defend Chris Woakes, he gave a thick edge to Bairstow on 43. Australia was 90-4 and back to relying on Head and Marsh, whose partnership of 155 saved Australia in the first innings.

There was an air of expectation at the start of the day, as local heroes Joe Root and Bairstow resumed with England at a delicate 68-3.

They had a precious chance to compensate for the five dropped catches between them on day one but did not.

Root nicked off to Cummins for 19 on the second ball of the day and Bairstow made just 12 after driving at Mitchell Starc and giving a catch to the slips.

At 87-5, Stokes had to save his side again, just five days after blasting 155 at Lord’s to revive a dying fourth-innings chase. But that exertion, also after bowling 12 straight overs, worsened his already dicey left knee. Unwilling to bowl at Headingley, the captain endured the pain to almost rub out England’s deficit.

Stokes, stiff and uncomfortable, put on a careful 44 with Ali until the latter made a careless hook at Cummins.

Woakes was also baited by a Starc short ball and England went to lunch in trouble at 142-7 and Stokes on 27.

The team reset its plans during the break and came out fizzing. The last three wickets added 95 runs in 10.2 overs.

Mark Wood sent the first ball of the middle session by Starc over the midwicket boundary. The second ball was slashed for four, the third for six more, and when he top-edged Cummins over fine leg, he had 24 from six deliveries.

Wood’s rousing cameo ended there and Stokes took up the challenge. After Starc dropped him on 45, Stokes rubbed it in by hitting Starc for three consecutive boundaries to pass 50.

Broad became Cummins’ sixth wicket thanks to an outstanding boundary catch by Smith.

The arrival of sore No. 11 batter Robinson made Stokes move up a gear.

He blitzed Australia’s second-choice spinner Todd Murphy for five sixes in 14 balls — three back down the ground, one swept behind square, and another picked up from outside off into the leg side. Stokes was the last man out after his 108-ball knock, holing out going for another big hit. Murphy went flatter and wider and received his first Ashes wicket.

Report: Saif R Siddiqui

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