Joe Denly insisted England never lost faith in their ability to pull off what would be one of the most astounding wins in Ashes history after collapsing to 67 all out in the third Test against Australia at Headingley.
England’s woeful total — their lowest in Ashes cricket for 71 years — appeared to have ended any hopes they had in this match of squaring the five-Test series at 1-1.
But come stumps on Saturday’s third day they were 156-3 in their second innings, needing a further 203 runs to reach a target of 359.
England captain Joe Root was 75 not out after sharing a stand of 126 in 53 overs with Denly that rescued his team from yet more top-order embarrassment at 15-2.
“I still think we’re in very good position,” said Denly, caught behind after gloving a Josh Hazlewood bouncer.
Denly, the only England batsman to reach double figures in the first innings, with 12, added: “It’s never ideal when you get bowled out for 67, it wasn’t good enough and we had to show a bit of fight and a bit of character in the second innings.”
Denly said England’s resolve had not faltered after their first-innings horror show.
“It was never about a draw or losing, but all about winning — that belief has to be there,” he said.
“We understand there is a tricky period in the morning with the new ball coming up. But we have Rooty and Stokesy (Ben Stokes is two not out following his unbeaten 115 in the drawn second Test at Lord’s) — two world-class batters in.”
Root’s effort was especially timely given England’s best batsman had been out for nought in his previous two Test innings.
“Any time Joe Root is scoring runs it puts belief in the side,” said Denly. “We feed off that.”
Saturday also saw Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne score 80 — his third successive Test fifty since coming in as world cricket’s inaugural concussion substitute for Steve Smith after the star batsman was hit by a Jofra Archer bouncer at Lord’s.
Labuschagne missed out on a maiden Test century by running himself out, but he was still pleased with his recent run of scores which included 74 in the first innings — seven more than England managed between them.
“As a batter you want to score hundreds but it was more about getting as big a lead as we could,” said Labuschagne. “It’s going to be pretty tough ever to fill Steve Smith’s shoes. But from a personal perspective I’m just trying to focus on my own game.”
If Australia win this match they will retain the Ashes and Labuschagne said it would not take much to derail England’s bid for victory.
“That’s how it works over here, you always find there’s big partnerships but then there’s one, two, three wickets. It can happen very quickly,” he added.
Unlike players on both sides involved in the World Cup, Labuschagne came into this match with plenty of recent runs in first-class cricket under his belt after playing for Glamorgan in the County Championship.
“Playing for Glamorgan helped a lot,” said Labuschagne. “Playing against the swinging ball in different conditions — and just learning my game and learning to put big runs on the board – definitely helped me and built my confidence as well.”
Saturday saw Labuschagne hit on the helmet and grille by bouncers from Stuart Broad and Archer, with the latter also having struck his grille at Lord’s.
But Labuschagne insisted Saturday’s strikes were just “glancing blows”.
Meanwhile the sidelined Smith had his third running session in three days on Saturday and his first bat, facing throw-downs for 15 minutes.
He will continue to be assessed with a view to playing in the three-day tour match against Derbyshire starting Thursday.