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Battling England in pole position as Archer and Curran shine

England's Jofra Archer
England's Jofra Archer

By Rory Dollard

Jofra Archer and Sam Curran combined to hand England a vital first-innings lead in the final Ashes Test, raising hopes of a series-levelling win at The Oval.

Archer took six for 62 and Curran marked his first appearance of the series with three wickets, but the prize scalp of Steve Smith evaded both men - Chris Woakes trapping him lbw for 80 deep into the second evening.

Remarkably, that was his lowest score of a prolific series and Australia duly subsided 69 behind on 225 all out.

Smith had taken his series tally to 751 in six knocks, and his sequence of 50-plus scores against England to 10 in a row, but this time he was unable to fully make up for his colleagues' mediocrity.

Rory Burns and Joe Denly survived a tricky 20 minutes before stumps on nine without loss, but both had scares in Josh Hazlewood's final over.

Denly, who became a father for the second time overnight, was badly dropped by Marcus Harris at slip and Burns was given lbw to the last ball, only for DRS to chalk it from the records.

The second six-for of Archer's England career was the result of some hostile and highly effective pace bowling, regularly delivered at 90mph, and took his series haul to 22 at a 17.27 average.

Curran, meanwhile, fully justified his recall for a first Ashes cap, calling to mind his man-of-the-series performances against India last summer and raising question marks over his recent absence.

Curran felt England had bowled well to dismiss Australia for 225 and establish a lead of 69 on first innings.

"As a group it was pretty good," Curran said. "Look at that wicket and it's pretty flat. It's a pretty placid pitch, to bowl them out for what we did was a great effort.

"Hopefully the sun will be shining again and we can get some nice runs on the board."

He continued: "Being in all the squads has helped me keep up the level of intensity. I've not had many county games and it's been quite hard going from the Test squad to T20.

"But leading up to this game I thought I was going to be involved and I upped my overs. When the crowd's going you get that bit of adrenaline and you don't feel stiff.

"Jof (Archer) is a great example, he's played every game, and to bowl 24 overs a day and keep his pace up was unbelievable."

Curran believes England are in a strong position heading into day three, with a lead of 78 and 10 wickets remaining.

"I think it's huge," Curran said. "It was great for those two (Burns and Denly) to get through the evening, and hopefully we can bat big to get a big lead.

"There's a lot of rough outside the left-hander's off-stump for Leachy (Jack Leach), and I'm sure it's going to keep turning.

"If we can bat for as long as possible and get a big lead we can put some pressure on them."

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