England stifled Australian ambition with a dour but effective batting performance on the third day of the fifth Investec Ashes Test.
With the series already won thanks to a 3-0 lead and Australia posting 492 in their first innings, the best realistic result available to England was the draw and they set about attaining it in functional fashion.
They reached stumps on 247 for four having eked out 215 runs in 98.3 overs, with each of the six batsmen who took to the crease getting started but none posting a significant score.
Joe Root’s 68 was the best of the bunch, but the in-form Ian Bell closed on 29 not out and will fancy adding to his productive series if the weather holds off on Saturday.
While England’s tactics may not have had the Kia Oval crowd in rapt attention, the motivation behind them – to send the tourists home winless ahead of this winter’s return series – bore closer scrutiny.
Australia have not won any of their last eight Tests and extending that to nine would land a psychological blow to a proud cricketing nation.
The first mini-battle of the day involved England’s opening pair and their attempt to post a first major partnership of the series.
Cook and Root had not managed a half-century stand in their four matches together at the head of the innings but crossed that landmark here.
Australia’s seamers contributed to the cause, bowling without any real venom in the first few overs and allowing the batsmen to settle.
England had resumed on 32, with Cook and Root teasing that out to 68 before the captain nicked Ryan Harris to the wicketkeeper for 25.
Cook has a top score of 62 in the series and his average of 27 ill befits a man who now tops England’s all-time century list.
Despite Cook’s struggles it took Australia just over an hour to remove him, valuable playing time in a game that looks set to be short of it over the weekend.
Root was slightly more fluent than his senior partner, one imperious cover drive staking an early claim for shot of the day.
He continued to keep his tally ticking along with semi-regular boundaries, punishing Australia whenever they went too wide, but managed to get stuck on 41 for 19 deliveries.
A dashed single got him going again and a pair of confident leg-side flicks off Peter Siddle saw him to his 50.
Number three Jonathan Trott was kept in check with some thoughtful field placings as England reached lunch on 97 for one.
The afternoon session was a longer one – totalling two and a half hours due to the time lost to rain on day two.
But the extra 30 minutes did not equate to added drama, as England decided to strangle the game.
A total of 38 overs were delivered, with 84 runs and two wickets – decidedly poor entertainment for the paying public, if not entirely surprising given England’s position of strength in the series.
Root at least gave the impression that he would milk the situation for a second Ashes hundred but having ground out 68 in 184 balls, he botched a sweep off the fourth ball of a new Nathan Lyon spell and floated a catch to Shane Watson as short fine leg.
Trott, like Cook somewhat short of runs in the series, was gritting his teeth at the other end.
Harris tested him in particular, striking Trott on the forearm and then the helmet with a nasty bouncer.
Trott, of course, is at ease with slow-scoring sessions but his new partner Kevin Pietersen was less comfortable.
He took 44 balls to get into double figures and Nathan Lyon looked likeliest to get him.
A couple of bat-pad chances evaded Steve Smith at short leg but it was Trott who was next out for 40.
Mitchell Starc was the bowler, pinning his man lbw at his first attempt with the second new ball.
An exchange of verbals involving Pietersen and Clarke briefly threatened to entertain but the arrival of tea cut them short.
The Australia skipper then wasted his side’s second review when Pietersen had 44, unsuccessfully referring an lbw shout by Siddle.
But Pietersen fell for exactly 50, nicking Starc to first slip only for the umpires to double check it was not a ‘bump’ ball.
That left England’s man of the series, Ian Bell, in with debutant Chris Woakes.
The all-rounder had bowled nervily on day one but sent his first ball as a Test batsman racing to the cover boundary.
He had 15no by the end, with Bell solid but becalmed at the other end.