Gallows humour ends up with England having last laugh at Headingley

WE got more runs than yesterday,” came the triumphant chant from the West Stand.

Australia's Marnus Labuschagne fails to stop a six from England's Ben Stokes.

Joe Root had just run a ball from Josh Hazlewood to the third man boundary, carrying England to 70-2 and past their first innings score of 67.

When it comes to gallows humour, England’s supporters are in a league of their own.

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Lord knows they’ve had enough practice; if they didn’t laugh at England’s batting in Test cricket, they’d be crying into their pints.

Having been dismissed on Friday for their lowest total in a Headingley Test, and their lowest in Ashes cricket since 1948, England simply had to make a better fist of things when their second innings began on Saturday afternoon.

After losing openers Rory Burns and Jason Roy cheaply, with 15-2 hardly the perfect start to the pursuit of 359 to save the Ashes, they showed the sort of application that had been sadly absent 24 hours earlier, reaching 156-3 in the 72 overs to stumps on day three.

Joe Root led the way on his home ground, reaching 75 and adding 126 for the third wicket with Joe Denly, who contributed 50.

Why England could not have shown similar fight on day two was anyone’s guess.

On a picture perfect day, with the sun beating down from an endless blue sky, Australia resumed on 171-6 in their second innings, 283 in front.

Marnus Labuschagne was still there on 53, his second half-century of the match having done much to put the tourists in control, with fast bowler James Pattinson unbeaten on two.

England missed an early opportunity to get rid of Labuschagne, dropped by Jonny Bairstow diving to his right off Stuart Broad when the batsman had 62.

It was the second time that Labuschagne had been dropped by the wicketkeeper, who also spilled him on 42 off Ben Stokes on the second evening.

Labuschagne – also shelled on 14 by Root at first slip off Stokes, and caught behind on 35 off a Stokes no-ball – rode not only his luck but also a succession of blows about his person.

He was struck on the helmet by Broad, hit on the grille of the helmet by Jofra Archer and, perhaps most painfully of all, hit where no man ever wants to be hit earlier in the contest, bringing a smile to everyone’s face apart from the batsman.

England had to wait until the day’s 11th over to break through, Pattinson pushing Archer to first slip, where Root took his 100th Test catch – the ninth Englishman to achieve the feat.

Stokes then had Pat Cummins fending to gully, while Labuschagne’s innings ended when he was run out while endeavouring to keep the strike, Denly’s throw from third man well gathered by Bairstow to send him on his way for 80.

Australia were bowled out half-an-hour before lunch, Nathan Lyon chopping-on to Archer. England threatened another collapse when Burns edged Hazlewood to first slip and Roy was bowled by a jaffa from Cummins. But Root and Denly’s partnership, which began unsteadily, grew in confidence, a bit like a toddler learning how to walk.

Root swept well and eliminated risk, while Denly – although never suggesting permanence – played well before gloving behind a short ball from Hazlewood.

At day’s end, the well-oiled patrons of the West Stand were daring to dream, happily immersed in a world of their own.