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LEEDS: Persistent rain ruled out any play before lunch on the third day of the third Ashes Test at Headingley on Saturday, with the match outcome on a knife edge.

Australia were 116-4 in their second innings, a lead of 142 runs, as they looked to go 3-0 up in the five-match series and secure a first Ashes campaign triumph in England since 2001.

England had slumped to 142-7 at lunch on Friday before captain Ben Stokes’s dashing 80 took his side to 237 all out.

Ton-up Marsh makes England pay for dropped catch in third Ashes Test

That left England just 26 runs behind on first innings, despite Australia skipper Pat Cummins’s impressive haul of 6-91.

Stokes also hit a blistering 155 in the second Test at Lord’s last week as England suffered a 43-run defeat.

Friday’s innings revived memories of Stokes’s Ashes heroics at Headingley four years ago, when his astounding unbeaten century guided England to a remarkable one-wicket win.

Off-spinner Moeen Ali followed Stokes’s run-spree on Friday by taking two wickets for two runs in just nine balls to remove Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith – two of the world’s top three-ranked Test batsmen.

Play should have resumed at 1000 GMT but heavy morning rain meant the pitch and square at Yorkshire’s headquarters in Leeds remained fully covered.

The umpires announced later Saturday that lunch had been brought forward 30 minutes to 1130 GMT.

An England and Wales Cricket Board spokesman said it would take groundstaff up to 90 minutes to mop up the outfield once the rain had stopped.

The day’s play, however, can be extended by up to an hour, with a cut off of 1830 GMT, in a bid to make up time lost to bad weather.

When play resumes, Mitchell Marsh, who has already marked his first Test in nearly four years with a brilliant run-a-ball 118 in Australia’s first innings, will be 17 not out and Travis Head 18 not out.

It was their fifth-wicket partnership of 155 that was the cornerstone of Australia’s first-innings 263.

The most any side have made to win in the fourth innings of a Test at Headingley is Australia’s 404-3 against England in 1948, when Arthur Morris made 182 and Don Bradman 173 not out.

England are bidding to become only the second team in Test history to come from 2-0 down to win a series after Australia, inspired by batting great Bradman, overturned that deficit to take the 1936/37 Ashes 3-2.

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