This was more like it. Facing a first-innings deficit of 278 – and nothing short of ridicule – England restored some pride on the third day of the first Test at the Gabba as Joe Root joined forces with Dawid Malan to keep Australia at bay.
At 61 for two in their second innings, after Rory Burns fell for 13 to Pat Cummins, and Haseeb Hameed was caught behind down the leg side off Mitchell Starc for 27, England still trailed by 216.
And with Root walking out on a pair, the more pessimistic assessments of their chances were wondering about a three-day defeat.
Joe Root (above) joined forces with Dawid Malan to keep Australia at bay on day three
England’s captain grew in stature before surpassing Michael Vaughan’s England record
But England’s captain put a couple of nervy early sweeps off Nathan Lyon behind him to grow in stature on another sun-kissed afternoon in Brisbane, while Malan kept him solid, sensible company on a pitch that remained good for batting.
Along the way, Root passed Michael Vaughan’s record for the most Test runs by an England player in a calendar year – Vaughan made 1,481 in 2002 – and reached stumps on 86 in a total of 220 for two.
With Malan on 80, Australia’s overall lead had been reduced to 58, and a point had been made after two shambolic days in which England’s selection, spinner and spine had all been called into question.
There is still plenty of work to do to emerge from the Gabba with anything other than a defeat, but for the moment the bleeding has stopped. And in the first session, as Australia turned their overnight 343 for seven into 425 all out, with Travis Head last out for a sparkling 152 off 148 balls, that seemed an unlikely prospect.
Malan kept him solid, sensible company on a pitch that remained good for batting
England reaching 220 for two seemed unlikely when Travis Head was last out for 152
It seemed unlikelier still when Burns – opting not to take first strike for only the third time in 55 Test innings – was dismissed in the first over after lunch by a brute of a ball from Cummins that climbed and kissed the edge on the way through to Alex Carey.
Hameed, meanwhile, was beginning to look comfortable when he got a glove on a leg-side tickle against the erratic Starc. A second gutsy 20-odd in his first Ashes Test felt promising but unfulfilled.
Moments later, Malan had a close shave as Steve Smith persuaded Cummins to go to the third umpire for a potential catch behind.
But with Real-Time Snicko not available for this game because of problems getting the relevant technology past Queensland’s strict Covid restrictions, it was impossible for third umpire Paul Wilson to determine whether the small bright mark on the toe-end of Malan’s bat was a result of contact with the ball or constant tapping on the ground.
It seemed unlikelier still when Rory Burns was dismissed in the first over after lunch
Haseeb Hameed’s second gutsy 20-odd in his first Ashes Test felt promising but unfulfilled
From there, England’s third-wicket pair got the pace of the pitch and the measure of Australia’s attack.
Tea came at 107 for two, and soon after Root ticked off his mentor Vaughan’s 19-year record. Some of his driving on both sides of the wicket was of the class that has already brought him six Test hundreds this year alone, and may yet bring a seventh.
A sweep for four off Nathan Lyon, who searched in vain for his 400th Test wicket, took Root to his seventh half-century in Australia, before Malan – preferring to hang on the back foot, but occasionally unfurling a drive through extra cover – joined him on 50 with a poke to third man for three off Cameron Green.
For the first time in three days, England were making Australia look mortal – important not just in the context of this game, but for the series as a whole. Cummins even turned to the enthusiastic leg-spin of Marnus Labuschagne in search of a breakthrough as the England fans in the crowd finally came to life.
Nathan Lyon (right) searched in vain for his 400th Test wicket as Root and Malan took control
As the shadows lengthened, the Barmy Army were drowning out the locals – and a long winter began to look just a bit more bearable.
Earlier in the day, Ben Stokes had got through three overs without exacerbating the left knee he had jarred on the second day – though not before Head deposited his second ball back down the ground for six.
Ollie Robinson, too, looked fine after leaving the field the night before, though Australia’s last three wickets were shared by Chris Woakes and Mark Wood, who finished with a deserved three-for when he bowled Head.
Meanwhile, the Australians had an injury scare of their own as opener David Warner failed to take the field following a blow to the ribs from Stokes during his first-innings 94.
Earlier in the day, Ben Stokes had got through three overs without exacerbating a jarred knee