|Tour match, Townsville (day three of four)|
|Cricket Australia XI 250 & 121-3: Gibson 49, Moeen 2-34, Crane 1-24|
|England 515: Stoneman 111, Malan 109, Root 83|
|England lead by 144 runs|
England improved late on a mixed third day of their final Ashes warm-up match against a Cricket Australia XI in Townsville.
Although Dawid Malan converted his overnight 57 into a century, England at one stage lost five wickets for 38.
A last-wicket stand of 58 between Chris Woakes and Mason Crane took the tourists to 515 all out.
CA XI openers Daniel Carder and Ryan Gibson shared 80 but spinners Moeen Ali and Crane reduced the hosts to 121-3.
Joe Root’s side are in firm control – they lead by 144 runs – and will probably complete a big win on Saturday’s final day, but for long periods this was an unsatisfactory day with the first Test against Australia less than a week away.
As Australia named a surprising squad for the match at the Gabba, England’s lower order wasted the opportunity of time at the crease and the pace bowlers then lacked penetration on an unresponsive pitch.
“It was a mixed day,” assistant coach Paul Farbrace told BBC Sport. “We took our eye off the ball with the bat.
“We are in a good position but, in terms of preparation for next week, we have dipped below where we have been during the first two days, which is a shame.”
Malan follows Stoneman’s lead
Like Mark Stoneman on Thursday, Malan responded to calls from captain Root and coach Trevor Bayliss for England’s batsmen to convert starts into big scores.
Resuming in partnership with Root with England 337-3, the left-hander played eye-catching cover drives and clips off the pads on the way to his 19th first-class century.
Root, who began the day on 62, looked set for a hundred of his own until he was brilliantly caught down the leg side by wicketkeeper Harry Neilsen off pace bowler Simon Milenko for 83.
Malan angled the off-spin of Matthew Short to third man to reach three figures, but his slow response to Moeen’s call meant he failed to beat Daniel Carder’s throw from short fine leg in the middle of the late-order collapse.
“For someone who is playing in this country for the first time, he has shown that the extra pace and bounce in the wickets suit his game,” said Farbrace.
“He found it difficult in England this summer when the ball nipped around, but he looks very much at home here.”
Jonny Bairstow slapped a full toss from leg-spinner Daniel Fallins to mid-on to depart for 19, but he at least made an unbeaten 61 against the same opposition last week.
For Moeen and Craig Overton, who may be required to contribute runs from number nine if he makes his Test debut at the Gabba, chances of batting in the middle may now have run out.
Both fell to consecutive deliveries from off-spinner Matthew Short either side of lunch.
Moeen, in his first match of the tour, was bowled for five and Overton was caught at short leg from his first ball to register a third successive duck.
“In an ideal world, you would like every player to spend the right amount of time at the crease, but it doesn’t always work out that way,” said Farbrace. “Moeen has a few more days to practise and work at his game.
“You can’t see Craig is out of form – he’s only faced 13 balls in three innings! He’s here for his bowling and any runs that he can contribute will be a bonus.”
When Stuart Broad was caught sweeping, England had slipped from 419-5 to 457-9.
The dependable Woakes and solid Crane took England past 500, their stand ended when Woakes was caught behind off Milenko.
England spinners break through
As on day one, England were frustrated by the CA XI openers. This time, Carder was joined by Gibson, with Nick Larkin absent because of a hand injury.
Broad was accurate with the new ball but Woakes, who took six wickets in the first innings, was expensive and Overton’s eagerness to be hostile sometimes resulted in over-doing the bouncers.
In truth, the pitch is looking increasingly more suited to slow bowling, with Moeen and Crane successful late on.
Off-spinner Moeen, having recovered from a side strain, was rusty to begin with but, after switching ends, had Carder caught at slip and bowled the sweeping Gibson.
When leg-spinner Crane enticed Will Pucovski to edge to slip, England’s efforts looked more respectable.