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The Ashes: Gritty Alastair Cook delays inevitable loss

Skipper Alastair Cook's 85 helps England take Oval Test into fourth day; hosts struggling to avoid innings defeat at 203 for six vs Australia

London: Alastair Cook stood defiant for five-and-a-half hours only to fall just before stumps at The Oval, with England staring at the near certainty of wide-margin defeat in the fifth Ashes Test on Saturday.

England skipper Alastair Cook reacts after losing his wicket a couple of overs before the end of third day's play of the fifth Ashes Test at The Oval on Saturday. Pic/AFP
England skipper Alastair Cook reacts after losing his wicket a couple of overs before the end of third day's play of the fifth Ashes Test at The Oval on Saturday. Pic/AFP 

England had to follow on 332 runs behind after being bowled out for 149 on the third morning — but Cook (85) then dug in for 234 balls, immovable against any bowler Australia deployed until going bat-pad to the sole over of part-time leg-spin from Steve Smith.

The hosts therefore closed on 203 for six, still 129 short of making Australia bat again, and the prospect of compromised Ashes 'celebrations' therefore looming large at some point over the next two days.

England, who regained the urn with a spectacular success at Trent Bridge, arrived back in London hoping to win a fourth Ashes Test in a home summer for the first time.

But they followed mediocre bowling with worse batting, and after Mitchell Johnson took their final two first-innings wickets in consecutive deliveries on a sunny morning, Michael Clarke took the obvious option of enforcing the follow-on.

Cook responded with just his second half-century of the series, stoic in the extreme on the defence and waiting with supreme patience to attack almost exclusively with his favoured cut and pull.

His determination, latterly in company with Jos Buttler, was the sole reason this Test - unlike the last two - will extend to a fourth day. His fellow opener Adam Lyth's attempt to revive England, and keep himself in the reckoning for a winter tour, floundered before lunch against the excellent bowling of Peter Siddle.

Following four successive maidens, Nathan Lyon doing the honours from the other end against Cook, Lyth edged a very good ball low to second slip to depart for 10 and take his Ashes returns this summer to a paltry 115 in nine innings.

Bell, Root flop again
Ian Bell and Joe Root tried to put right what went wrong first time round, but neither could see it through. Bell rarely convinced and his luck ran out when he got a brute of a delivery from Mitch Marsh and gloved a simple catch to second slip; then Root's attempt to counter-attack against Johnson ended with a mishook to fine-leg.

Cook had his 50 by then and was already showing no signs of a captain prepared to go easily. Others were, conspicuously, not nearly so steadfast. Jonny Bairstow's skittish innings either side of tea ended with an inside-edge to short-leg off Lyon, the first of two wickets in an over for the off-spinner — who had Ben Stokes for a fourth-ball duck, via an attempted push-drive and edge to slip.

There was minor controversy over Bairstow's dismissal when it emerged through video scrutiny — long after he had walked off — that the catch by Adam Voges was made following initial impact with the fielder's helmet, and therefore should not have been deemed legal.

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