Stuart Broad’s farewell does not go as planned, as England’s quest for wickets is stymied.
Australia needs another 249 runs to overcome England, who are 283 and 395 (Root 91, Bairstow 78, Crawley 73, Starc 4-100, Murphy 4-110).
A day began with Stuart Broad getting a guard of respect from the Australians following his retirement announcement the night before, finishing with David Warner and Usman Khawaja giving them a fantastic basis from which an unusual goal of 384 seemed feasible at The Oval.
Only 40 overs were feasible on the fourth day before the rain came in, but Australia virtually entirely won them.
When the rain came down during the afternoon session, they required 249 runs to win the series 3-1 and will have 98 overs on the final day, weather permitting.
After going through the Australian lineup, Broad faced Mitchell Starc’s opening over the day and somewhat hilariously farmed the strike for five balls before smashing the last six of his Test career over deep midwicket.
When James Anderson reverse-swept Todd Murphy, he rejected a single and was lbw three balls later.
As the final innings of this fascinating series started, Australia needed to complete the second-highest successful chase in history to claim their first series win in England since 2001.
When Warner and Khawaja initially stepped to the crease, it seemed far away, but it was much closer when they left for the final time that day.
Broad took the opening of the innings from the Pavilion End, but apart from one thick edge by Warner that dropped short of Ben Duckett at third slip, there were few unpleasant moments in an unimpressive three-over burst. England’s whole bowling effort eventually felt rather lifeless.
Anderson contributed to the strain by bowling three consecutive maidens, but Khawaja’s drive from Warner and two boundaries in a row pierced that.
Moeen Ali came in for the 10th over, despite his groin issue, and despite some help from the pitch, he served up enough wayward deliveries to keep the scoreboard ticking.
Broad returned to little avail, but the seamers could keep the score under control.
Joe Root bowled ahead of Moeen both before and after lunch and did a fair job until his ninth over cost 13, including a slog-sweep from a more confident Warner.
Warner had dismissively launched Anderson over mid-off and then managed to steer an unintentional beamer down to third as he landed flat on his back in the crease a few overs earlier.
Many of England’s tactics resembled those seen on slower subcontinental pitches, with a ring of catchers in front of the batsman and the quicks employing cutters to attempt to make the ball go.
There were concerns about Mark Wood’s late arrival into the assault, as he was not employed until the 33rd over, with Australia winning by 99 runs.
His arrival drew a shout almost as loud as Broad’s, and his speed, while not as fast as at Headingley or Old Trafford, caused Warner and Khawaja to move around more than they had previously.
Khawaja’s two thick edges raced past the cordon down the deep third, where he was stuck on the back of the helmet as he ducked a short ball.
A new helmet (so fresh that the manufacturer’s label had to be removed) was required, and after a spirited over, a leading edge popped securely into the offside.
There was barely enough time for one more over before the rain began to fall from the west.
Played was called off just before 5 p.m., presenting an intriguing scenario for the final day of a series that has rarely been less than exciting.