Australia openers David Warner and Usman Khawaja hit unbeaten fifties as the tourists reached 135-0 on a rain-shortened Sunday in pursuit of a mammoth target of 384 runs to win the fifth Ashes Test at The Oval.
They kept Stuart Broad waiting for a farewell wicket after the England fast-bowling great made a shock announcement on Saturday that he was retiring following this match.
Warner was 58 not out and fellow left-hander Khawaja unbeaten on 69 when rain at 2:41 pm (13:41 GMT) stopped play on the fourth day.
The Ashes, 5th Test: Read the scorecard here
Australia needs 249 more runs to complete a 3-1 series win and a first Ashes campaign triumph in England since 2001.
If Australia does manage to reach that target, it will be the eighth-highest fourth-innings total to win any Test and the second-highest in England, behind Australia’s 404-3 at Headingley in 1948 when Arthur Morris made 182 and batting great Don Bradman an unbeaten 173.
It would also be a new ground record -- the highest successful fourth-innings chase in a Test at The Oval is England’s 263-9 against its arch-rival in 1902.
“It was an outstanding start from our openers,” Australia batting coach Michael Di Venuto told reporters after stumps.
He added, “There’s a lot of (Australian) guys who have been on Ashes series over here (England) in the past...We are in a great position, for some of those boys to get that on their resume.”
England batting coach Marcus Trescothick, however, insisted the host remained in confident mood.
“We’re still pretty positive about the job we’ve got to do,” he said. “They (Australia) have had a good start with the bat, and seen off the new ball.”
But the former Ashes-winning opener added: “A couple of early ones (wickets) in the morning and suddenly we’re right in the mix again.”
Fast-medium bowler Broad has dismissed Warner 17 times in Test cricket. Neither he, nor the rest of England’s pace attack were able to break through, however, before a persistent downpour cut short the day’s play.
Warner, 30 not out at lunch, lofted England veteran James Anderson, who turned 41 on Sunday, straight back over the paceman’s head for a resounding boundary.
Two balls later Anderson, struggling to produce swing, shook Warner up with an accidental head high full-toss, or beamer, the bowler immediately apologising as the ball sped away to the boundary.
Khawaja, the leading run scorer in the series, went to fifty with his fifth four in 110 balls when he edged fast bowler Mark Wood.
Warner, who by contrast has been struggling for runs, then followed him with a 90-ball fifty featuring seven fours. Australia, as the holder, has already retained the Ashes after arriving in London 2-1 up in the five-match series.
Earlier, Broad was given a guard of honour as he made his way to the wicket for the final time, but England added just six runs to their overnight total of 389-9.
The 37-year-old seamer is the fifth most successful bowler in Test history, with 602 wickets so far.
“I’ve had a love affair with the Ashes my whole life and the thought of being able to bowl my last ball and face my last ball against Australia fills me with joy,” he said.
Broad, whose highest Test score is 169, was batting with his long-time bowling partner Anderson. He faced the first over delivered by fellow paceman Mitchell Starc, with Broad pulling the sixth delivery for a towering six.
But Anderson was lbw to off-spinner Todd Murphy in the second over as England were dismissed for 395.
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