Jos Buttler’s late fightback papered over the cracks after England failed to make the most of Australian mistakes on day one of the final Ashes Test at The Oval.
Fighting to avoid a first defeat on home shores since 2001, but unable to reclaim the urn, the hosts were surprised to be sent in on a true pitch and reached stumps on 271 for eight with Buttler unbeaten on a counter-attacking 64.
Australia’s gamble having won the toss faltered when they dropped home captain Joe Root three times – on 24, 25 and 30 – and allowed England to move to 170 for three at the start of the final session.
The stage was set for England to knuckle down to a match-winning first innings, but they instead lost five for 56, including Root for 57, and were staring down the barrel when Buttler launched his fightback.
Hit on the chest on 17, he decided to take matters into his own hands, peppering the boundary and unloading three sixes as he put on 45 with ninth-wicket partner Jack Leach.
Mitchell Marsh was the unlikely source of England’s earlier struggles, the all-rounder having been recalled for his first game of the series nine months after being dropped over concerns about his weight and conditioning.
He took four for 35, currently his career-best figures, before an attack of cramp interrupted his quest for a maiden five-for.
Tim Paine was influenced by a “strange” looking pitch with a tinge of grass, pressing Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood back into service just four days on from the rigours of the fifth day at Old Trafford.
Rory Burns was beaten on the outside edge twice in the first over and successfully overturned an LBW decision on four, while Joe Denly felt bat on ball twice when he had intended to leave.
The pair managed to scramble together 27 in just under 10 overs, remarkably the highest opening stand of a series that has been a bonfire for top-order batsmen.
Cummins parted them, Denly with a familiar waft outside off stump and Steve Smith taking the slip catch after a couple of fumbles. Whether or not the 33-year-old has a Test career after this week is open to question, but this cannot have helped.
Root was gifted a soft start by Peter Siddle, whose first three overs shipped 18 runs, and with Burns settling into his work, it did not take long for England to shift the tone.
Any doubts Paine had over his decision would only have intensified when Root top-edged a pull from Cummins only for Siddle to let the ball slip through his hands at fine leg.
Root was spared again moments later when Cummins took his outside edge, but Paine put down the chance having leapt one-handed in front of David Warner. Burns took the opportunity to settle things down, guiding the score to 86 for one at lunch and leaving the home side well set to forge ahead.
Remarkably, Australia’s profligacy in the field continued in the first over of the afternoon session, Siddle this time the victim rather than the perpetrator.
He tempted Root into flashing away from his body only for Smith to parry a simple chance in the cordon. Root would have been desperate to make the opposition pay, but despite putting together his fourth half-century of the series, never came close to showing his best.
Burns did not even get that far, trying to do too much with a well-directed short ball from Hazlewood on 47 and looping the easiest possible catch to Marsh as he strolled in from mid-on.
That brought Ben Stokes to the crease, complete with a shoulder injury and the added responsibility of batting a place up at number four. He could only make a scratchy 20 before an ugly mis-hit pull lobbed to Nathan Lyon at point.
England had erred for their 169 for three at tea, but it still represented a strong base, particularly with Root still battling through.
After 25 balls of the afternoon session, they had a solitary leg-bye to the total and lost their skipper, Cummins squaring Root up and coaxing enough from the pitch to knock back off stump. Jonny Bairstow was close behind, LBW to an inswinging yorker from Marsh for an inconsequential 22.
Sam Curran had a brief, but entertaining stay – hooking a six, LBW to a Cummins no-ball, carving a four and slashing Marsh to second slip, all in the space of 15 deliveries.
Marsh made it four with another yorker at Chris Woakes and Hazlewood was quick to dispatch Jofra Archer.
By then, Buttler had entered do-or-die territory, smashing the total back towards respectability with some delightful shots. Three off Hazlewood went all the way, over long-off, long-on and mid-wicket and there was a sweet reverse sweep.
With Leach seeing off 31 balls at the other end, England lived to fight another day.News Now - Sport News