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Root, in on a pair, was 41 not out and Denly 30 not out with their third-wicket stand so far worth 75 runs. @ AFP

England captain Joe Root and Joe Denly were fighting hard to prevent a three-day defeat in the third Test after Australia threatened another Ashes rout at Headingley on Saturday.

When Australia took two wickets for no runs in four balls to leave England 15/2, it looked like another dramatic collapse was on the cards following the hosts’ woeful 67 – their lowest Ashes total since 1948 — in the first innings. But at tea on the third day, England had recovered to 90/2.

Root, in on a pair, was 41 not out and Denly 30 not out with their third-wicket stand so far worth 75 runs.

England still needed a further 269 runs to reach an unlikely target of 359 and with 39 overs left in the day there was time for them to be bowled out before stumps. But they were at least making Australia work for a win that would see them retain the Ashes at 2-0 up with two to play in a five-match series.

Surrey openers Rory Burns and Jason Roy both fell cheaply shortly after lunch.

Left-hander Burns (seven) edged a lifting Pat Cummins delivery to David Warner at first slip before Roy, yet to convince as a Test match opener, played down the wrong line to Josh Hazlewood, who took 5/30 in the first innings, and was bowled.

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Root got off the mark with a three off fast bowler Hazlewood to the delight of his home Yorkshire fans in a capacity, sun-drenched crowd.

Denly, the only England batsman to reach double figures in the first innings with 12, repeatedly played and missed either side of being hit on the head by a Cummins bouncer. But both he and Root applied themselves on an increasingly slow pitch that was making life tough for Australia’s pace attack.

And there was a huge cheer from the crowd when Root’s controlled hook off Hazlewood raised a fifty partnership with Denly.

The odds were still hugely in Australia’s favour, given only three sides have made more than 300 to win in the fourth innings of a Test at Headingley – Australia (404/3 in 1948), England (315/4 against Australia, 2001) and the West Indies with 322-5 two years ago.

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Earlier, Marnus Labuschagne missed out on a maiden Test hundred as he top-scored with 80 in Australia’s second-innings 246. It was his third successive fifty since becoming world cricket’s inaugural concussion substitute in place of star batsman Steve Smith during the drawn second Test at Lord’s.

Australia resumed on 171/6 with Labuschagne 53 not out after making 74 – seven more than England managed between them – in the first innings.

Labuschagne drove Stuart Broad for a textbook four through extra cover to go to 60 only to be dropped next ball when diving wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow floored a one-handed chance heading towards Root at first slip – the third time Labuschagne was reprieved in his innings.

Labuschagne had moved on to 70 when, as happened with his second ball at Lord’s, he was hit on the helmet grille by a Jofra Archer bouncer. But after being examined by the Australia team doctor, Labuschagne uppercut an 88 mph (141 kph) Archer bouncer for four.

Labuschagne was 74 not out when Cummins’s dismissal left Australia 226/8. But rather than being denied a century in his seventh Test by a lack of partners, the South Africa-born batsman ran himself out.

Labuschagne ignored the old rule of ‘never run on a misfield’ when Denly fumbled at third man and then failed to beat a throw to Bairstow as his valuable 187-ball innings featuring eight fours came to an end.