LONDON – Shane Watson made a superb 176 to give Australia the upper hand on the first day of the fifth Ashes Test against England at the Oval today.
The No 3 made only his third Test century and his first in 25 matches to guide the tourists to 307 for 4 at stumps.
However, his wicket late in the day – a fine diving catch at long leg by Kevin Pietersen off the bowling of Stuart Broad – saw the door remain ajar for England to get into the tail on the second morning.
But the day belonged to Watson, who put behind him a troubled summer to sparkle in the London sunshine with an innings of responsibility and gravitas.
Steven Smith followed in his wake, ending the day on 66 not out after playing his part in a crucial partnership of 145 for the fourth wicket.
Watson had taken the match by the scruff of the neck before lunch, reaching 80, and continued his march towards three figures before being hit on the back of the head by a Broad bouncer.
But the rugged Aussie battled on, reaching the landmark from just 114 balls with 16 fours and a six, before receiving his first life on 104 when Alastair Cook dropped a fairly simple chance at first slip off the bowling of James Anderson (2 for 52).
The England seamer had earlier gained the breakthrough when David Warner (6) followed a ball that drifted across him to give Matt Prior a regulation catch behind the stumps.
Australia lunched at 112 for 1 with Watson taking a particular liking to debutants Chris Woakes and Simon Kerrigan, but Chris Rogers (23) fell shortly after the interval when he edged Graeme Swann (1 for 71) to Jonathan Trott at slip.
Captain Michael Clarke came to the crease with nemesis Broad (1 for 73) in full flight and once again the hostile paceman had the batsman hopping around the crease like a nervous rookie.
Clarke never looked at home and after scratching his way to seven from 39 balls, Anderson picked up his second wicket when he got one to nip back to take the top of off stump.
The wicket – Anderson’s 326th Test victim to take him past Bob Willis into second place in England’s all-time list – left the tourists looking vulnerable on 144-3 with a long-looking tail following the addition of debutant James Faulkner and Mitchell Starc to their side.
But Watson took on the role of anchor, while Smith overcame a tardy start by striking Swann for six over long-off to release the shackles placed on him by the seamers.
Woakes (0-52) and Kerrigan (0-53) were ineffective on their first starts for England – the latter looking terribly nervous, particularly after Watson had hit him for 28 from his first two overs before lunch.
He was given another chance to settle before tea but a looping full toss was dispatched to the fence by Smith and although he wasn’t so expensive later on, his promotion to the team at this stage appeared premature.
Woakes appeared to have taken his first Test wicket when Watson was adjudged to be lbw by Aleem Dar on 166, but the ball struck above the pad and was shown to be going over the stumps by Hawkeye on review.
Watson otherwise looked imperious, striking 25 fours and a six, and was disappointed to pull Broad straight to Pieterson on the boundary – the England batsman taking a fabulous diving catch to his left to dismiss the Queenslander.
Smith and nightwatchman Peter Siddle (18 not out) had an awkward few overs to negotiate in the evening sun, but neither Anderson nor Broad was able to make further inroads and it will be Australia who will resume in the ascendancy on day two. (Sky)