Stuart Broad’s hopes of retiring in a blaze of glory threatened to go awry as his old rival David Warner helped Australia puncture the party atmosphere on day four of the final Ashes Test.
The stage seemed set for Broad to bow out in style following his shock announcement on Saturday night, as he was awarded a guard of honour by the tourists and then smashed his final ball as a batter into the crowd for six.
That left Australia chasing a mammoth 384 to win at the Kia Oval, 121 more than the ground record, placing England as heavy favourites as Broad began the chase for wickets alongside 41-year-old birthday boy James Anderson.
But Australia spoiled the party as Warner (58 not out) and Usman Khawaja (69 not out) carried the score to 135 without loss. In all England sent down 38 overs without a single concrete chance before rain brought an early end to proceedings midway through the afternoon session.
Broad bowled six overs for 15 but was unable to give the crowd the moment they wanted – an 18th career dismissal of Warner. England still need 10 wickets on the final day of an absorbing series, chasing a 2-2 scoreline and a share of the spoils, but there is now a real chance that the visitors could win outright on English soil for the first time in 22 years.
It would be a fine achievement if they managed it, requiring the eighth-highest fourth-innings chase in Test history, the second-best from an Australian side and the second-best in this country.
Stuart Broad's last Test match - in pictures
The start of the day belonged to Broad, the man who the south London public had turned out to see.
The previous evening, when he had announced his retirement from the game on The Oval pitch, Broad said: “It’s certainly emotional. It’s a blur. I still love playing the game, I love being in the changing room and I wanted to have those memories leaving the game.
"That will definitely make me stay in love with the game of cricket for the rest of my life.
“This has been the most enjoyable series, the most entertaining series, the most edge-of-the-seat series that I can remember. I’ve loved that eye-to-eye battle, I’ve loved the energy the crowd brings, the rivalry.”
Australia showed their respect for England’s most prolific Ashes wicket-taker by lining up at the boundary edge and clapping him through as he and Anderson emerged to complete their last-wicket stand. Anderson, who has vowed to carry on despite having four years on his partner, made a point of taking a different route.
The pair refused to take easy singles off the first five balls of Mitchell Starc’s first over, a seemingly curious ploy but one that cashed out when Broad stepped away and smashed the seamer over midwicket for six. That would be his final stroke as a professional cricketer, with Anderson lbw to Todd Murphy in the next over.
Both men dashed off as they rushed to get their hands on the new ball, with clouds rolling in on cue. Warner produced an uncertain jab off Broad’s first delivery, spraying it off the inside edge, but the Dukes was refusing to swing despite the overhead conditions.
Broad’s first spell did not not create any real danger, though he managed a few theatrical reactions to suggest otherwise, but he was not alone. Anderson and Chris Woakes fared similarly, with the 10th over of the innings thrown to Moeen Ali. Mark Wood, meanwhile, saw his 90mph pace go surplus to requirements.
He had not been certain to bowl at all due to a groin injury, but worked through five gentle overs before giving way to Joe Root. Warner and Khawaja were focused on the task at hand, picking off a steady diet of loose deliveries and reaching 75 by lunch.
Warner hinted that he was ready to go through the gears at the start of the afternoon session, clattering Anderson high over mid-off with a clean swing of the bat that took the score to 92 – the highest opening stand of the series.
Anderson sent down a wild beamer at his next visit, with Warner flopping to the ground as he avoided injury and collected four deflected runs into the bargain. With Root beginning to leak boundaries at the Vauxhall Road End, Stokes finally sent for Wood after 33 overs.
The Durham quick rapped Khawaja on the helmet as he ducked into a skiddy bouncer, but England could not get prevent the game slipping away from them. Khawaja was first to 50 in 110 balls, with Warner a couple of minutes behind but 20 deliveries quicker.
The weather intervened midway through the session but, while rain ruined England’s victory charge at Old Trafford last week, this felt like a welcome break for a home side who were losing the initiative with every run scored.