Ian Bell was left holding the fort for England yet again as they struggled for runs on the third day of the final Ashes Test against Australia at The Oval yesterday.
England, who at 3-0 up had already won the five-match series, were 247 for four at stumps, still 245 runs behind Australia's first innings 492 for nine declared but needing just 46 more runs to avoid the follow-on.
Bell, who came into this match having scored exactly 500 runs in the series with three hundreds, was 29 not out off 110 balls in nearly two-and-a-half hours at the crease.
Meanwhile Test debutant Chris Woakes, was 15 not out following a final session played under gloomy skies despite the glare of the floodlights. Several England batsmen got in but failed to press on, with Kevin Pietersen making an unusually restrained 50 in 133 balls.
England scored 215 runs in the day’s 98.3 overs, in a match where victory would mean they had won four Tests in a home Ashes for the first time. But there was still something to be gained for England by denying their arch-rivals a consolation success — Australia’s last ‘winless’ Ashes was in 1977 — ahead of the return series ‘Down Under’ starting in November.
England resumed Friday on 32 without loss after Shane Watson’s Test-best 176 and Steven Smith’s 138 not out — his maiden hundred at this level — had taken Australia to their imposing total.
Alastair Cook, the England captain, was 17 not out and Joe Root 13 not out. Cook’s poor series with the bat continued when he followed a delivery angled across him from Harris and edged to wicketkeeper Brad Haddin for 25. It was an all-too familiar exit for Cook in a series where he has scored 243 runs in nine innings with a best of 62 at an average of just 27.
Root’s pull off Peter Siddle saw him to a 145-ball 50 with eight fours, but, after lunch, he made a tame exit on 68 when he fell top-edging a sweep off spinner Nathan Lyon straight to Shane Watson at short fine leg, with England now 118 for two.
There were ironic cheers from a capacity crowd when Pietersen drove leg-spinner Smith for four — the first boundary in 11 overs. But the first delivery with the new ball saw Jonathan Trott lbw for 40 to left-arm paceman Mitchell Starc. By contrast Bell, Trott’s a Warwickshire teammate, got off the mark fifth ball with a square-driven four off Starc.
Pietersen’s bottom-edged boundary — England’s first in 14 overs — off Test debutant James Faulkner saw him to a 50. However, Pietersen had failed to add to his total when he edged Starc to Watson, now at first slip, to leave England on 217 for four.
Australia 1st Innings
C Rogers c Trott b Swann 23
D Warner c Prior b Anderson 6
S Watson c Pietersen
b Broad 176
M Clarke b Anderson 7
S Smith not out 138
P Siddle b Anderson 23
B Haddin b Trott 30
J Faulkner c Trott b Woakes 23
M Starc b Swann 13
R Harris c and b Anderson 33
N Lyon not out 0
Extras (b1, lb12, w2, nb5) 20
Total (9 wkts dec, 128.5 overs, 574 mins) 492
Fall of wickets: 1-11 (Warner), 2-118 (Rogers), 3-144 (Clarke), 4-289 (Watson), 5-320 (Siddle), 6-385 (Haddin), 7-423 (Faulkner), 8-446 (Starc), 9-491 (Harris)
Bowling: Anderson 29.5-4-95-4 (1w); Broad 31-4-128-1 (4nb); Swann 33-4-95-2; Woakes 24-7-96-1 (1w); Kerrigan 8-0-53-0 (1nb); Trott 3-0-12-1
England 1st Innings
A Cook c Haddin b Harris 25
J Root c Watson b Lyon 68
J Trott lbw b Starc 40
K Pietersen c Watson
b Starc 50
C Woakes not out 15
I Bell not out 29
Extras (b9, lb5, w4, nb2) 20
Total (4 wkts, 116 overs) 247
Fall of wickets: 1-68 (Cook), 2-118 (Root), 3-176 (Trott), 4-217 (Pietersen)
To bat: M Prior, S Broad, G Swann, S Kerrigan, Anderson
Starc 26-5-60-2 (1nb, 1w); Harris 23-9-41-1 (1nb); Faulkner 12-3-29-0; Siddle 21-6-46-0 (1w); Lyon 26-8-41-1; Smith 8-3-16-0