In a series filled with intriguing passages of play, it seemed like a rare day of Test cricket lacking the excitement witnessed in the earlier four Test matches. For a long time into the day’s play, the events before the start of play raised more eyebrows than the actual play. It included a shocking decision from Tim Paine who elected to bowl first after winning the toss. Further, Australia’s decision to bench Mitchell Starc, whose role in this series has now been restricted to only Test match, at the expense of Peter Siddle was also debatable.
England, on the other hand, seemed happy to bat first. Kennington Oval has been one of the better batting venues where the top 6 batsmen have scored at an average of 41.3 runs per wicket, the second best amongst all venues that have hosted five or more Tests since 2010. Openers, Joe Denly and Rory Burns did not look at their best but forged the highest opening partnership of the series. Although, they added only 27 runs in 8.3 overs but it gave the cricket experts enough time to discuss if Australia were a little complacent going into the Test match having retained the urn already. The drop catches of Joe Root, two fairly simple chances at international level, only strengthened the belief.
Denly was eventually caught by Steve Smith who pulled out a juggling act at the second slip. Burns and Root carried England to lunch with the scorecard reading 86 for one after a lackluster session of play.
Burns, who looked solid before lunch, could not carry on and succumbed to the short ball for the fifth time in the series handing an easy catch to Mitchell Marsh off Josh Hazlewood for 47. Ben Stokes, England’s highest run scorer in the series faded in the similar manner. The only difference being that his dismissal was more bizarre as he fell to batting-allrounder Mitchell Marsh and was caught by Nathan Lyon at point.
After a decent start, England were down to 130 for three. They had re-building to do with skipper Root, who continued to ride his luck after being dropped for the third time in the innings, at the helm. He brought up the 44th fifty of his Test career and also became the quickest batsman to amass 7,000 Test runs (in terms of time span) in the process.
The lightning can strike twice and for the England captain, it has struck a several times in this series. Barely four overs after tea, Cummins reminded Root of his dismissal in the second innings of the fourth Test hitting his off stump again. The ball gave an impression as it stayed a tad low but Root was squared up again with a beauty from the number 1 Test bowler falling to him for the seventh time in his Test career.
England’s score read 170 for four but the worst was yet to come. Root’s departure was only the beginning of another implosion from the English batting. Mitchell Marsh took the centrestage running through England’s lower-middle order.
His first victim was Jonny Bairstow, whom Marsh stunned with an immaculate in-swinging yorker. Sam Curran was adjudged lbw off a no ball from Pat Cummins but failed to make most of his luck. He was Marsh’s third victim by committing a rash drive outside the off stump only to be caught by Steve Smith. Chris Woakes also could not stay for long falling over to another Marsh yorker.
A batting-allrounder who was asked to bowl only to give breathing space to the frontline pacers, Marsh stunned the England batsmen taking a four-wicket haul before a cramps forced him to walk out of the field in the middle of his 15th over. the setback was only minor cramps and Marsh returned later to bowl another over.
But England were not going down without a fight. One thing in which the home side can take pride is fighting it out consistently in the series. Today, the fightback was led by Jos Buttler who switched to the one-day cricket mode after Jofra Archer’s departure.
In a partnership with Jack Leach, Buttler pressed his foot on the accelerator collecting back to back sixes off Hazlewood. He farmed the strike to perfection. More often than not, Leach’s role in the partnership was only to see off the last two balls of the over.
Buttler breezed past his 15th Test fifty ending the day with 64 which included six fours and three sixes. More importantly, his unbeaten stand of 55 runs with Leach helped the home side recover after roller-coaster day.
Despite having their opponents 226 for eight, the Aussie bowlers looked timid in the twilight period of the day. The drop in intensity again raised the question, are Australia being complacent after retaining the Ashes?