Zak Crawley hit a dashing 77 but England’s hopes of batting out for a draw in the fourth Ashes Test were dwindling after losing three wickets on the final morning.
The tourists resumed on 30 without loss facing a long haul of 98 overs to hold off Australia’s victory charge at the SCG, and reached lunch at 122 for three.
Crawley defied expectations of an ultra-defensive rearguard, reeling off 13 boundaries in a free-flowing innings that looked as though it would deliver on some bold pre-match words.
The 23-year-old averaged just 10.81 in a torrid 2021 but insisted he was capable of producing a century here. For much of the first session he seemed on course to do just that, but his charge was halted by a well-judged yorker from Cameron Green.
Crawley was thoroughly beaten, pinned at shin height in front of middle stump and heading off to leave English prospects fading at 96 for three.
Captain Joe Root and deputy Ben Stokes saw things through to the interval, with the latter dropped on 16, but with another two sessions ahead and no sign yet of bad weather there was a marathon in front of them.
Crawley had started the day alongside Haseeb Hameed, but only one of the opening pair appeared ready for the challenge. Hameed has struggled throughout the series and never seemed likely to make a notable contribution.
He was dropped by Alex Carey on nine but did not add to his score before offering the wicketkeeper the chance to make amends, nicking Scott Boland straight into the gloves. That left him averaging exactly 10 from eight innings, a figure that will surely see him axed for the final match in Hobart.
Crawley was playing a different game, whipping Pat Cummins for handful of early boundaries in the arc between long and midwicket. He had 40 of England’s first 50 runs and brought up his own half-century in 69 balls.
Number three Dawid Malan came and went for just four, continuing the downward spiral of a tour that started well but has tailed off considerably. He was guilty of a loose shot against Nathan Lyon, who rocked his off stump from round the wicket.
Root, fresh from a duck in the first innings, started nervily but Crawley was motoring with a pull off Mitchell Starc and a sweet on-drive off Boland. It took a sharp piece of thinking, and perfect execution from Green, to stop him in his tracks.
That left Root and Stokes to mount the defence, with Stokes almost falling for 16 when he popped Cummins to short leg. Luckily for him, Marcus Harris juggled the catch meaning England’s senior pair would have the chance to build again in the afternoon.