LONDON   -  Joe Denly narrowly missed out on a maiden century but still helped England into a match-winning position on the third day of the final Ashes Test against Australia at The Oval.

Two days after his wife gave birth to their second child, opener Denly made 94 to all but secure his place on England’s winter tours. After being dropped on nought on the second evening, the Kent man also should have been given lbw on 54 to Mitchell Marsh, only for Australia to opt against a review.

He was eventually bowled by Peter Siddle after sharing a third-wicket stand of 127 with Ben Stokes, who oozed class for his 67. Jos Buttler sparkled in his 47 before a late Australia improvement left England 313-8, 382 ahead. With two days remaining and the pitch beginning to show signs of turn, England are primed to level the series at 2-2. Though Australia have already retained the Ashes, defeat here would deny them a first series win in England since 2001. The home side are also looking to avoid a first home loss to anyone in five years.

On a glorious day in south London, England took advantage of the benign conditions to put together one of their best batting displays of the Test summer. They have, though, been helped by some uncharacteristic Australian generosity. Tim Paine’s decision to field first is looking increasingly baffling, so too the selection of Siddle over Mitchell Starc. The tourists have dropped five catches and continually failed in their use of the review system.

But that is to take nothing away from Denly, who had already batted at number three and four this summer before being asked to open. By making his third successive half-century, he has suggested he has a future at this level. There were fractious moments throughout the day. Matthew Wade and Joe Root exchanged words, as did David Warner and Ben Stokes, who was goaded by the close fielders. Nathan Lyon chatted constantly.

The home supporters responded on their team’s behalf, especially to any Australian fielder who ventured towards the boundary. The England batting, Aussie baiting and late arrival of cult hero Jack Leach gave the crowd one more enjoyable day in a memorable summer that is almost at an end.

Denly’s wife Stacy was in the early stages of labour as he was making 14 on the first morning. He left the ground that night and returned just after lunch on Friday as the father to a second child, a baby girl. Australia helped him celebrate with a pair of let-offs, which Denly accepted by playing sweet strokes down the ground and square of the wicket on the off side for his third half-century in as many Tests.

He nimbly used his feet against off-spinner Lyon, including lofting a straight six, and was dogged enough to survive some painful blows from the fast bowlers. Denly set the tone for Rory Burns and Joe Root to play freely in the morning, but after both fell to Lyon, Stokes arrived to continue his fine form.

The Durham all-rounder also benefited from being dropped - by slip Steve Smith off Lyon on seven - and went on to sweep the same bowler for six and swat another savage maximum off Marnus Labuschagne’s leg-spin.

Stokes was bowled by a beauty from Lyon that turned sharply, while Denly got an equally good one from Siddle that nipped away and resulted in an edge to Smith. He departed with his head bowed, eventually bringing himself to raise his bat in acknowledgement of the standing ovation.

Australia will leave the UK with the urn for the first time in 18 years, but skipper Paine said the series win meant so much to them that this match was a “grand final”. This was the day it slipped away. On top of the toss, selection, drops and failed reviews, their superb new-ball pairing of Hazlewood and Pat Cummins had a rare ineffective day. Lyon is struggling with damage to his spinning finger - not that he will get sympathy from England supporters. He did have Burns caught behind, Root held at slip and, later, produced the ripper to account for Stokes.

He was also the bowler when the tourists missed another opportunity to use the review system. Buttler could have been lbw on 19. It took until the dying embers of the day for Australia to sparkle. First Smith leapt full length to take Chris Woakes one-handed at second slip then, next ball, deep square leg Labuschagne ran and dived forward to hold a pulling Buttler millimetres above the turf.