England’s bowlers were forced to graft as Australia reached 287 for three on the opening day of the final Investec Ashes Test at the Kia Oval.
It was a rare full day in the field for England in this series – just their second after being kept out at Lord’s – as Australia’s batsmen bounced back after they were routed at Trent Bridge for just 60 on the way to conceding the series.
England will, therefore, finish this match by lifting the little urn but have work to do if they are to get the win skipper Alastair Cook individually implored them to strive for by phonecall before this game.
Cook sought to use the momentum his bowlers had developed in the past two games by opting to bowl and test any lingering fragility in Australia’s batting ranks in gloomy conditions.
In between there was a moment of warmth for retiring Australia skipper Michael Clarke, who was given a guard of honour by the England players as he walked out to bat.
Cook doffed his cap and shook his opposite number’s hand to underline the respect that bubbles under the surface of Ashes battles.
England trusted the same XI that confirmed their Ashes triumph in Nottingham while Australia made two changes, with Mitchell Marsh and Peter Siddle replacing Shaun Marsh and Josh Hazlewood.
Australia were becalmed in the opening hour as they sought to heed their outgoing skipper’s pre-game plea to show greater fight.
The meek surrender at Trent Bridge was clearly at the forefront of their minds as Warner and Rogers watchfully began with just 19 from 14 overs. Boundary hitting was shelved and they did not find the rope before the first drinks break.
England probed away in that time, beating the bat fairly regularly, but when Mark Wood did find Rogers’ edge the ball fell short of the cordon.
Australia began to expand their strokeplay in the hour before lunch, most noticeably Warner, and the boundaries started to follow.
They managed 10 before the main break with Warner able to reach his half-century, from 76 balls, as he effectively changed gears.
The tourists therefore reached lunch content at 82 without loss after being asked to bat.
The century partnership between Rogers and Warner, their third in the Ashes, followed soon after the break but so too did Wood’s deserved opening wicket.
The Durham quick surprised Rogers with a bit of extra pace forcing him back as he edged to Cook, who pushed the ball up before comfortably holding on.
England then applied early pressure on Smith, who had failed to reach double figures in his previous five innings on tour.
That poor run had seen him relinquish top place in the ICC’s Test batting rankings to Joe Root, but he dug in alongside Warner in a half-century stand.
Warner had looked rock solid in reaching 85 until Moeen Ali found drift and turn to lure the opener forward and catch his edge which Adam Lyth held at first slip.
Arguably the moment of the day followed with Clarke’s arrival, although it was almost soon forgettable for the Australia skipper after he survived a muddled first ball.
Clarke turned Moeen just short of Ian Bell at leg-slip and then, believing the ball had got past him, set off for a single.
Bell saw the opportunity but his backhand flick did did not have the power to beat Clarke as he belatedly recovered his ground.
Clarke, who was wearing a black armbard with the initial ‘PH’ in memory of Phillip Hughes, grafted to tea but departed for 15 shortly after.
Stokes claimed the wicket as he found the faintest of edges that only Real-Time Snicko picked up when Clarke reviewed.
That was the extent of England’s progress as Smith found ominous touch after looking jumpy early.
The incoming Australia captain was unbeaten on 78, when he gratefully accepted the light with two deliveries to go before the second new ball was available. Voges stood alongside him on 47.
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