ENGLAND’S hopes of a glorious finale to the 2015 Ashes were in tatters after an alarming collapse on day two of the fifth Investec Test at The Oval.
Australia piled up 481 all out, thanks to an 11th Test century by captain-in-waiting Steve Smith (143), and then the hosts surrendered on a fair pitch as all-rounder Mitch Marsh took a career-best three for 18 in a stumps total of 107 for eight.
England started this final match of the series with the Ashes in the bag, and aspirations of a fourth Test victory over Australia in a home summer for the first time. But after following one poor day with a miserable one, the mission has become highly improbable for Alastair Cook’s team.
Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Steven Finn eventually shared nine wickets but Stuart Broad followed his brilliant career-best eight for 15 at Trent Bridge with a back-to-reality none for 59 after Cook had put Australia in.
In England’s response, Nathan Lyon became the first Australia bowler to have his say on the stroke of tea. Peter Siddle, curiously in his first match of a series played on surfaces which might easily have rewarded his relentless seam and swing, then took centre stage.
Cook was bowled off-stump by Lyon’s final ball of the afternoon, an off-break which turned sharply from round the wicket.
Adam Lyth opened the door to more trouble with an ill-executed pull to Siddle’s second delivery, resulting in a catch at mid-on.
Joe Root cut his first ball from Siddle for four but was soon stuck in attempted survival mode as he and Ian Bell tried to scramble a foothold. Neither managed it, Bell losing his off-bail to a perfect ball from Siddle and Root going caught-behind to Marsh when Australia overturned a not-out verdict via the tightest of DRS calls.
Jonny Bairstow committed the second faulty Yorkshire pull of the evening, off the returning Mitchell Johnson, and Jos Buttler was bowled through the gate driving at Lyon. Stokes joined the pulling misadventure, caught behind off Marsh. When Broad then edged to second slip, Marsh had taken three wickets for four runs, and registered a double-wicket maiden – while England had lost seven in doubling their score to 92.
Earlier, Smith was Australia’s cornerstone with the bat, with Adam Voges (76) and Mitchell Starc (58) helping out with contrasting half-centuries.
The tourists’ No 3 resumed on 78 and moved to his hundred in 197 balls, having hit 12 fours and a six. It was not until the fourth-wicket stand was worth 146 that England had something to celebrate, Voges undone by seam movement from Stokes which pinned him lbw despite his recourse to DRS.
Smith had 92, and appeared to be on his way to the very next ball after flailing an edge behind off Finn. It transpired, however, that not only had a poor delivery been met with a poor shot but umpire Aleem Dar failed to detect an overstep.
Smith was reprieved en route to his second hundred in as many appearances on this ground.
Marsh was unable to mark his recall with worthwhile runs, though, fencing high to second slip to give Finn his 100th Test wicket after all. Then, in the over before lunch, Moeen struck twice in three balls – Peter Nevill gloving a shovel shot behind to an alert Buttler and Johnson missing an off-break to be bowled on the defence.
Starc provided new momentum after lunch for Australia, and further frustration for England, with a 45-ball 50 which included seven fours and a six-over long-on off Moeen.
There was no third-umpire intervention when Smith again got adventurous against Finn, edging an ugly mow on to his stumps to end an eighth-wicket stand of 91 in just 94 balls.
Smith said afterwards: “It was a very good day. It was nice to get 481 on board.
“The bowlers today, it’s the best we’ve bowled all series. They created lot of pressure, made them earn their runs and picked up wickets.
“We didn’t over-attack too much. We put the ball in the right spot. There’s enough in the wicket and we made the batters earn their runs.
“We haven’t done it too much in this series. I thought we did that well today.”
Finn admitted there was plenty of work to do to get anything out of the match, saying: “We’re disappointed. We’ve had a very very poor day.
“Australia, credit to them, batted very well and then showed us how to bowl on this pitch. We’ve had a poor day but we’ll come back tomorrow and fight as hard as we can. It’s a good wicket. Australia’s bowlers got a lot more out of it banging it on a very good length and hard than we did. We hold our hands up.”