Australia's lead in the Ashes series has been left hanging by a thread after two horrendous days at Old Trafford. Now they are praying that rain helps them escape with a draw, even if it would be a hollow way to retain the urn.
's pace extracted three wickets in Australia's second innings and such was the damage inflicted that the best part of the two remaining days may need to be washed out for them to avoid defeat, despite having opted for a longer batting line-up in this Test. The forecast, however, looks likely to oblige and the Australians weren't trying to hide that they would gladly take a helping hand.
"I'd be very pleased," Josh Hazlewood
admitted. "It's obviously forecast but forecasts can change all the time. Obviously, rain and light plays a big part in cricket and has done forever. So, yeah, it'd be great to lose a few overs here and there, and make our job a little easier if I'm hanging in there."
Different forecasts are providing varying prediction as to how much rain will come over the next two days, but Saturday looks universally bleak with a bit more uncertainty over Sunday's final day. Either way, it appears England may only get a narrow window to force the result that would keep them on track to be only the second team to come from 2-0 down to win an Ashes series.
"The weather is the weather, and I'm not Michael Fish," Jonny Bairstow
said, referencing the famous BBC forecaster of the 1980s and 1990s. "Coming in tomorrow, if there is a bit of weather around, maybe some overheads, you'd like to hope we're able to create some chances. The weathermen have been right, the weathermen have been wrong, who knows what's going to happen? We'll still turn up with the same mindset and that will be to try and take another six wickets."
It was Bairstow who compounded Australia's woes on the third day as he plundered an unbeaten 99 to swell England's lead to 275. Although the visitors had a modicum of success in stemming the scoring before lunch, overall it was a debilitating innings for the much-vaunted attack with Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc going for 392 runs between them at 5.22 per over. It was just the second time the trio had each conceded a hundred in the same innings.
"I imagine a few games against India on some flat wickets we've gone the journey as well. So it's nothing too new for us, I guess [it] was probably just the run rate," Hazlewood, who claimed a five-wicket haul, said. "It was a pretty special knock from Zak [Crawley] and…obviously Jonny and Rooty as well. Definitely, we could have been better in patches throughout the innings and with a bit of luck we might have, but that's not the case. So we'll have a look at that and learn from it again."
Hazlewood also defended Australia's tactics against Bairstow in the final-wicket stand of 66 with James Anderson, during which the pair ran byes to Alex Carey on three occasion, so that Bairstow could get the strike back.
"Do you just bowl wide and down leg and really stop him from scoring? Or do you try and roll the dice and bounce him and try and get a wicket that way, or keep bowling hard length and hopefully one goes up the chute?" he said. "But there times we potentially could just bowl away from him the whole time.
"We saw probably a new tactic again today of running on bouncers or running through to the keeper. It's just trying to limit his scoring and [trying] different things to try with two balls left, one ball left, keeping the tailender on strike for next over and things like that, so I thought we did reasonably well."