Joe Root was dropped twice as England yesterday made a steady start on the opening day of the final Ashes Test at the Oval, reaching 86-1 at lunch.
Visiting captain Tim Paine asked the home side to bat, hoping his bowlers could take advantage of early overcast conditions in south London, but will rue the two bad fumbles.
Joe Denly and Rory Burns had to dig deep to keep Australia’s lively pace pair of Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood at bay in the testing opening overs.
England had an early scare when Burns was given out LBW with the score on just 7, but successfully reviewed the decision, with the ball tracker showing it was going over the stumps.
However, Australia did not have to wait long for a breakthrough, with Cummins removing Denly in the ninth over to leave England 27-1.
Denly pushed unnecessarily at a wide delivery and Steve Smith held on to complete a juggling catch at second slip.
That brought captain Root to the crease, with the England captain keen to make amends after an inconsistent series.
However, the skipper had an astonishing let-off when, on 24, he top-edged a pull off Cummins to deep fine-leg, only for recalled Peter Siddle to drop a straightforward catch, much to the delight of the nearby crowd.
In Cummins’ next over, Root again had a huge let-off when wicketkeeper Paine failed to cling on to a one-handed chance high to his right.
At the lunch break, Burns was 42 not out, with Root unbeaten on 28.
Australia won at Old Trafford last week to take a 2-1 lead in the five-match series, meaning they will retain the urn, regardless of the result at the Oval.
However, Paine said that his side were “very hungry” to complete the job and win their first Test series in England since 2001.
To stand any chance of leveling the series, Cricket World Cup winners England would have to find a way to solve the riddle of immovable Steve Smith, who has scored 671 runs in just five innings at an astonishing average of more than 134.
All-rounder Mitchell Marsh and seamer Siddle were brought in for the tourists, with batsman Travis Head and paceman Mitchell Starc missing out.