England’s charge through the Australia batting was halted by more rain on another wet day at Lord’s.
The home side reduced the Ashes holders to 80-4 – trailing by 178 – on the third day of the second Test before rain wiped out the final two sessions, to go with the abandonment of the first day.
In the 24.1 overs possible, England’s bowlers recovered from a poor start to pressure Australia into losing three wickets for 11 runs.
As they allowed the tourists to move from 11-1 to 60-1, England were in danger of wasting perfect bowling conditions.
But debutant Jofra Archer took his first Test wicket, followed by one each for Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad.
Still, England were unable to find a way to remove prolific Australia batsman Steve Smith, who remains on 13 not out.
Given there are only two days of play remaining – Saturday and Sunday are forecast to be dry – it may be that there is not enough time for England to force the win that would level the series at 1-1.
For there to be a positive result, the tourists would have to bat beyond England and bowl them out on the final day, or the hosts would need to wrap up this innings quickly, then get far enough ahead to be able to attack Australia’s batsmen again on Sunday.
Friday ruined by predictable rain
Given the accuracy of Wednesday’s forecast and the resulting lack of play, there was little optimism over a full day of cricket on Friday.
Regarding the threat of rain, it was a feeling of when rather than if.
However, when play did start on time, the conditions were perfect for England to breathe life back into their Ashes campaign – damp, murky and with the floodlights beaming down.
That they just about managed to make the most of them keeps a flicker of life in this contest, but the reality is that the weather means the most likely outcome is a draw.
The players were sent from the field just before lunch and, even at that stage, it seemed unlikely that they would be seen again.
The rain eased sufficiently for an inspection to be scheduled for 16.30 and 17:20 BST, but the weather worsened before the latter could take place and play was abandoned.
Improved England get rewards
The three wickets were a decent return for England, but their rewards could have been greater had they not started so poorly.
Archer, Broad and Woakes bowled too short and on both sides of the wicket, meaning Cameron Bancroft and Usman Khawaja were able to add 30 runs in eight overs.
When England finally found the right line and length, the next 16.1 overs brought only 20 runs and the three wickets.
Bancroft was lbw to one Archer got to nip back, Khawaja prodded at Woakes to give an edge and Travis Head was pinned on the crease to be lbw to Broad on review.
England also thought they had Matthew Wade, who was given leg before off Ben Stokes, only for technology to show the ball pitched outside leg stump. Wade is yet to score from 23 deliveries.
Through it all, Smith did what Smith does: twitched, shuffled and left the ball with annoying flamboyance.
If England can remove him early on Saturday, maybe they can run through the tourists quickly enough to set up a push for victory. It is a big ‘if’.
‘Every result is possible’ – what they said
Former England captain Michael Vaughan on BBC Test Match Special: “I still think every result is possible – a team could be bowled out quite easily in 40-50 overs.
“On a wicket like this I do think there will be a low score. If Australia had caught better they could have bowled England out for 170.
“The pitch will continue to do things and you can still get Smith out. Australia will be trying to bat 50-60 overs and get near England, then that third innings will be tricky – how do they play that?”
Ex-England captain Alec Stewart: “Credit the England bowlers because they had plans and they stuck to those plans. They were patient.
“All the talk is about Steve Smith but he’s got 13 and faced 40 deliveries.
“Matthew Wade, who scored that excellent second-innings hundred at Edgbaston – he’s still on nought having faced 23 deliveries, so it shows how well England have bowled.”
BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew: “With just two days remaining a result seems unlikely but both teams will have to be careful.
“England made good progress in the session that was played but while Smith remains, a strong Australia reply cannot be ruled out.”