LONDON – England plodded their way to 247 for 4 on day three of the fifth and final Ashes Test at the Oval today.
With the weather forecast for Saturday unfavourable, the hosts appear set to complete a 3-0 Ashes series victory with Australia unable to make serious inroads into their batting line-up.
Each England batsman gained starts on a docile pitch providing little encouragement for the seamers and just slow turn for the spinners, with only the introduction of the new ball threatening to unsettle the batsmen.
With little motivation but to play out time, the England batsmen frustrated the Australian attack with little reward, Mitchell Starc leading the line with 2-60 from 26 overs.
England remain 245 adrift of Australia’s first innings total of 492-9 and surely only clear skies and a flurry of wickets in the morning can give the visitors any hope of ending the series on a high.
They began the day brightly when Alastair Cook (25) played at a ball from Ryan Harris that moved across him and caught the edge, with wicket-keeper Brad Haddin taking the catch.
He and fellow opener Joe Root put on 68 – their first half-century partnership of the series – after resuming on 32 without loss and it proved to be the hosts’ only hiccup before lunch.
Root passed 50 shortly before the interval – only the second time he has reached the landmark against the Aussies this summer following his magnificent 180 in the second Test.
He got a reprieve of sorts on 42 when Peter Siddle had a huge appeal for lbw turned down by Aleem Dar, with Hawkeye showing the ball would have clipped the leg stump leaving the verdict with ‘umpire’s call’.
Root (68) had otherwise looked assured, hitting 11 stylish boundaries in a patient knock as England edged towards their follow-on target of 293, but after looking in no real trouble on a featherbed of a wicket his uncontrolled sweep to Nathan Lyon caught the top edge giving Shane Watson the simplest of catches.
Jonathan Trott (40) followed in Root’s footsteps as he gathered runs steadily, although without the dashing strokes that peppered the younger man’s innings.
The Warwickshire batsman made the boundary on just two occasions in his 134-ball stay before Starc’s successful lbw appeal was upheld after a review by the batsman.
The third-wicket stand with Kevin Pietersen was worth 58 while Pietersen and Ian Bell (29 not out) continued to make stealthy, untroubled progress, maintaining a turgid run-rate of just above two an over.
Once again it came as some surprise when the fourth wicket fell, Pietersen reaching 50 for the 32nd time in Tests before getting some bat on a wide, over-pitched delivery from Starc that Watson pouched at second slip.
Australia skipper Michael Clarke had earlier wasted his side’s second review when Pietersen had 44, unsuccessfully referring an lbw shout by Peter Siddle that struck outside the line of the stumps.
Bell was joined by debutant Chris Woakes (15 not out), who celebrated his arrival by square-driving his first delivery from Starc to the boundary before the pair kept their opponents at bay with a leisurely, unbeaten stand of 30 under the lights. (Sky)