England’s Harry Brook fell short of a first Test century against Australia as the visitors had the better of the opening day of the fifth and final Ashes clash at The Oval on Thursday.
Brook’s quickfire 85 was the centrepiece of England’s 283 all out, although he should have been dismissed for five on a day where Australia, unusually, dropped five catches.
But after captain Pat Cummins won his first toss of the series and sent England into bat in overcast, bowler-friendly, conditions, Australia then lost just one wicket under the floodlights to be 61-1 at the close – a deficit of 222.
Usman Khawaja was 26 not out and Marnus Labuschagne, fresh from his hundred in last week’s rain-marred drawn third Test at Old Trafford, unbeaten on two.
Australia, as the holders, have already retained the Ashes at 2-1 up after bad weather meant only 30 overs were possible across the last two days at Old Trafford.
But if they avoid defeat at The Oval they will secure a first Ashes series win in England in 22 years.
“Winning the toss and bowling, the first objective is to bowl them out,” Australia off-spinner Todd Murphy told Sky Sports.
“We created a lot of chances – it would’ve been nice if we could’ve held on to all of them, but it’s a good day, all in all.”
Brook, however, said England were “pretty happy” with their total as he explained the method behind a 91-ball innings featured 11 fours and two sixes.
“I know it looks madness when we are out there and scoring quick but we have always had little moments where we have had to rein it in and soak up pressure (against Australia)...If I am just trying to survive I am pretty useless!” he said,
Following England’s latest display of aggressive ‘Bazball’ batting, Australia, who defeated India in the World Test Championship final at The Oval last month, started their reply in more orthodox fashion.
But having blunted the new ball, David Warner fell for 24 when he edged Chris Woakes and Zak Crawley held a sharp catch moving to his right at second slip.
Earlier, England were struggling at 73-3 when Brook came into bat.
But the 24-year-old Yorkshire player rebuilt the innings during a stand of 111 with Moeen Ali (34).
Moeen’s exit, however, sparked a middle-order collapse that saw England lose four wickets for 28 runs after they had been 184-3.
Brook hooked Mitchell Starc for six, although the left-arm fast bowler recovered to take 4-82.
Moeen, meanwhile hoisted paceman Cummins for two sixes, although he bowled better than figures of 1-66 in 13 overs suggested.
Australia might have feared the worst when Murphy, in for all-rounder Cameron Green, dropped short with his second ball and was pulled for four by Moeen, struggling with a leg injury.
But Murphy bowled Moeen, aiming across the line, next ball to spark a collapse.
England captain Ben Stokes was then bowled for just three by a full-length Starc delivery and Jonny Bairstow, who made a stunning 99 not out in Manchester, flat-footedly played on to Josh Hazlewood for four.
Brook completed his fourth fifty in five Tests against Australia only to miss out on a hundred when an edged drive off Starc was caught by Steve Smith at second slip.
Woakes (36) and Mark Wood (28) again added useful runs down the order, although Woakes was dropped twice.
Crawley, who made a dazzling 189 in Manchester, and Ben Duckett had gotten England off to a rapid start although both openers were dropped in the slips.
Duckett eventually fell for a run-a-ball 41, caught behind down the legside off Marsh.
Crawley, the leading run-scorer in the series, was dismissed for 22 by a superb Cummins delivery that he could only edge straight to Smith.
Joe Root was out for just five, playing on to an off-cutter from Hazlewood.
Brook should have been out for five too when he edged Cummins, only for diving wicketkeeper Alex Carey to drop a one-handed chance – Australia’s most expensive miss of the day.