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 moved to 170 for three at the start of the 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.
Tweet of the day
While Australia’s decision to bowl delayed Steve Smith’s opportunity to add to his 671 runs this series, cricket’s governing body decided to honour the batsman in bizarre fashion. Smith, who regained top spot in the Test batting rankings earlier this month, was portrayed as a goat – greatest of all time – in a picture posted on the ICC’s Twitter account.
Stat of the day
It may not have been a particularly impressive opening stand but, incredibly, the 27-run partnership between England batsmen Joe Denly and Rory Burns was the highest of the series so far. Their efforts, prior to Denly being dismissed for 14, bettered England’s 22 in the first innings of the first Test at Edgbaston. It was also the first time this series that each of the top five batsmen for either side had reached double figures. Australia’s highest opening partnership to date is 13 – a score registered in the second innings of both the first and second Tests.
Milestone moment for fortuitous Root
Root became the 12th England batsman to register 7,000 Test runs. The 28-year-old required 35 runs on Thursday to reach the landmark and, ultimately, surpassed it comfortably. However, there was a large degree of luck involved for the England captain. He was dropped three times, with Peter Siddle and Tim Paine culpable of costly fumbles, while the diving Smith squandered a more difficult chance. Only Sir Alastair Cook (27 years, 346 days) and India great Sachin Tendulkar (28 years, 193 days) have reached the milestone at a younger age than Root.
Rice little earner
Root’s half-century was also welcome news for the charity Chance to Shine. Musical lyricist Sir Tim Rice has pledged money to the good cause, which aims to give children the opportunity to play, learn and develop through cricket, based on milestones reached by England players at The Oval. Root’s fourth 50 of the series meant Rice would donate £5,000, with Buttler’s half-century later doubling that to £10,000. The figure could yet increase. Three wickets from one England player will also earn £5,000 for the charity, while centuries or five-wicket hauls will cost Rice £15,000 each.
Australia’s position at the end of day one owed a lot to Mitchell Marsh’s first appearance of the series. The all-rounder, recalled in favour of Travis Head, ripped through England’s middle order to close with figures of four for 35. He trapped Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes lbw with a pair of yorkers, and also had Ben Stokes and Sam Curran caught by Nathan Lyon and Smith respectively. However, there were concerns about Marsh’s fitness due to an apparent hamstring problem which temporarily halted his bowling. The 27-year-old has previously been criticised for his weight, but Australia captain Tim Paine claimed on Wednesday that Marsh “is as fit as we’ve seen him”.
This was the latest starting Test ever held in England. The previous record was set in 2005, with a match which ended on September 12, having begun four days previously. Kevin Pietersen was the standout performer 14 years ago to the day, producing a sensational knock of 158 from 187 deliveries. Pietersen’s magic helped secure a fifth-Test draw as England reclaimed the urn for the first time since 1987 with a memorable 2-1 Ashes victory.
September 13: England v Australia, day two of the fifth Ashes Test, The Oval.