Ben Stokes’s five-wicket haul left England on the verge of an Ashes-clinching win in the fourth Test at Trent Bridge on Friday,
When bad light forced an early close to the second day, Australia were 241 for seven in their second innings — still 90 runs shy of making England, 2-1 up in the five-match series, bat again.
Pace bowling all-rounder Stokes had taken five wickets for 35 runs in 16 overs — the second five-wicket haul in his 15-Test career after his six for 99 against Australia at Sydney in January last year.
“It’s unfortunate that we had to come off for bad light but we’re in an unbelievable position here,” the 24-year-old Stokes told Sky Sports.
“We need three wickets and they need 90 to make us bat again but the most crucial thing is that we go out tomorrow (Saturday) and make sure we don’t have to get the pads on. Hopefully we can just get the game over and done.”
Australia had been 113 without loss on Friday until Stokes took three wickets for four runs in 13 balls shortly before tea.
With the floodlights on in the final session, Stokes returned to have Peter Nevill plumb lbw for 17 as the wicket-keeper left a ball that cut back sharply.
But Adam Voges, on a ground where he played for Nottinghamshire, held firm with 48 not out — his highest score of the series so far.
Mitchell Starc was nought not out as Australia at least avoided the embarrassment of a two-day defeat.
Australia left-handed openers Chris Rogers and David Warner had frustrated England with a century stand that was in stunning contrast to their side’s first innings 60 all out in 111 balls — the shortest-ever completed first innings of a Test match — where they both made ducks.
Stuart Broad took a Test-best eight for 15 on his Nottinghamshire home ground as England caught everything that came their way on Thursday.
But on Friday, England captain Alastair Cook dropped a regulation first-slip catch when Warner had made 10 and he was reprieved again on 42 when Ian Bell floored a far more difficult slip chance.
Rogers and Warner added 113 in 24 overs compared to the 18.3 needed to wrap up Australia’s first innings.
For the first time in the match, England were missing all-time leading wicket-taker James Anderson, ruled out with a side injury.
But Warner contributed to his own downfall on 64 when a top-edged pull off Stokes looped gently to Broad at mid-on.
Warner faced just 74 balls for his runs but his anger at his dismissal showed that crease-occupation was the priority for Australia in their desperate plight.
Specialist batsman Shaun Marsh, brought in to replace younger brother Mitchell, saw his miserable return to Test cricket continue when he followed a first-innings duck by edging Stokes to Root in the slips for two.
Australia were soon 136 for four when star batsman Steven Smith, carelessly drove Broad straight to Stokes at point and was out for five.
Michael Clarke’s wretched run of low scores then continued when, on 13, the Australia captain pushed hard outside off stump against fast bowler Mark Wood, with second slip Bell grabbing the rebound after Cook had juggled the initial chance.
Clarke’s exit meant he’d passed 25 just six times in his last 30 Test innings.
After Nevill fell, Stokes struck again when Mitchell Johnson (five) nicked a swinging ball to Cook.
When the umpires decided conditions were too gloomy despite the floodlights, England were looking at a second successive win inside three days after their eight-wicket victory in the third Test at Edgbaston last week.
Earlier, England extended their overnight 274 for four to 391 for nine declared — a huge lead of 331.
Root increased his first day 124 not out to 130 before he was caught behind off left-arm fast bowler Starc, who ended the innings with a Test-best six for 111.
“I would give those six (wickets) back to be none down overnight,” said Starc.
“We will come out tomorrow morning and fight as hard as we can.
“It’s the Australian way to fight, fight to the end, and that’s what we’ll do.”