Rory Burns was eyeing a maiden Test century as Australia finally saw the back of England captain Joe Root in the Ashes opener at Edgbaston on Friday (Aug 2).
England were 170-2 at tea on the second day of the first Test, 114 runs behind Australia’s first-innings 284.
England still had plenty of work to do to get back on level terms but this was a vast improvement on their first-innings 85 all out in a Test win over Ireland at Lord’s last week.
Surrey opener Burns was 82 not out and fellow Ashes debutant Joe Denly nine not out at tea, with Root the only batsman dismissed in a session that yielded 99 runs in 27 overs.
Australia’s total had been built on a superb 144 from Steve Smith in the former captain’s first Test match since completing a 12-month ban for his role in a ball-tampering scandal in South Africa.
The tourists have been struggling at 122-8 before their last two wickets more than doubled their score. England were 10-0, with left-hander Burns four not out and Surrey team-mate Jason Roy six not out, when play resumed Friday in slightly overcast conditions.
Roy made a blistering 85 in eventual champions England’s World Cup semi-final win over Australia at Edgbaston last month.
But in just his second Test, he never looked comfortable against Australia’s fast bowlers and, on 10, he edged a good length ball from James Pattinson low to Smith at second slip, with England then 22-1.
Root had returned to number three from four in a bid to lead from the front.
But the star batsman was almost bowled leaving off-spinner Nathan Lyon’s first ball, a sharply turning delivery that just missed the stumps.
Root had an even bigger slice of luck on nine when he was given out caught behind off Pattinson only for his review to reveal the ball had hit the off stump without dislodging a bail.
Meanwhile, Burns patiently bided his time and picked off anything loose, such as an over-pitched ball from Pat Cummins that he on-drove for four. England were 71-1 at lunch, with Burns 41 not out and Root unbeaten on 11.
Burns went to fifty in 110 balls when he hit Lyon for the seventh four of his innings.
Root then had another moment of good fortune when given out lbw to recalled paceman Peter Siddle on 14. But in a match already full of overturned decisions, his immediate review revealed an inside edge.
Root cashed in by driving Lyon for four and leg-glancing Cummins for another boundary as he too completed a 110-ball fifty.
But, frustratingly for a batsman whose conversion rate of the fifties to hundreds is relatively poor — 42 to 16 — he fell soon afterwards when he chipped a ball Siddle held back, the bowler taking a fine one-handed catch, to end a second-wicket partnership of 132.
Australia’s pacemen allowed Burns to settle by repeatedly bowling around the wicket and so feeding him runs on the legside.
By the time they bowled over the wicket at him, he was well set with Burns — whose highest Test score is the 84 he made against the West Indies in Bridgetown in January — cutting Lyon for four.
Australia hold the Ashes but they have not won a Test series away to England in 18 years.