Shane Watson launched a brutal assault on England’s two rookie bowlers to lift Australia to 112-1 at lunch on the first day of the fifth and final Ashes Test at The Oval yesterday.
The burly all-rounder blazed one six and 15 fours all round the ground on his way to a sparkling unbeaten 80 after James Anderson had claimed the early wicket of David Warner.
Chris Rogers, unbeaten on 21 at the interval, provided solid support for Australia, who are 3-0 down in the series and bidding for their first victory in nine Tests.
Australia captain Michael Clarke won the toss and had no hesitation in choosing to bat under clear blue skies on a wicket which traditionally offers little help to bowlers.
England made a breakthrough with the total on 11 when Anderson drew Warner into a loose drive and the opener — on 6 — edged a regulation catch to wicketkeeper Matt Prior.
Anderson and Stuart Broad bowled tight opening spells, but there was precious little movement in the air or off the seam, and captain Alastair Cook soon turned to off-spinner Graeme Swann.
Rogers played out three successive maidens from Swann, but runs flowed more freely at the other end, with Watson hitting Chris Woakes for three fours in an over as the all-rounder struggled to find a good length on his debut.
Watson pulled Woakes powerfully for another boundary and drove him straight for his ninth four to bring up the 50 partnership.
The all-rounder danced down the pitch to lift Swann over long-on for six and he reached his half-century with a single from Simon Kerrigan’s first ball in Test cricket.
The left-arm spinner was a surprise inclusion in the England side and Watson greeted him with a withering assault, smashing 28 runs off his first two overs.
Cook was forced to recall Swann and Broad to stem the flow of runs, but Watson continued to play his shots to close on his third Test century and the first of a disappointing series in which he has been shunted up and down the batting order.
Prior to the start of the Test, Australia coach Darren Lehmann had urged fans to “get stuck into” Broad and send the bowler home in tears because of his “blatant cheating” during the first Test last month.
Broad refused to walk — and escaped being dismissed — after clearly edging a delivery from spinner Ashton Agar to first slip in the series’ initial Test at Trent Bridge, which England won.
“I just hope the Australian public give it to him right from the word go for the whole [Australian] summer and I hope he cries and he goes home,” Lehmann said in an interview with radio station Triple M.
Broad said this week that he knew he nicked the ball behind, but waited for the umpire’s decision.
“Certainly our players haven’t forgotten, they’re calling him everything under the sun as they go past,” Lehmann said.