Joe Root scored only his second fifty of this Ashes after Australia captured the prize wicket of England captain Alastair Cook on the third day of the fifth and final Test at The Oval yesterday.
England, who at 3-0 up have already won the five-match series, were 97-1 at lunch.
Root was 52 not out, with the only other occasion the 22-year-old Yorkshireman had past 50 this series coming when he made his Test-best 180 in England’s crushing 347-run win in the second Test at Lord’s.
Jonathan Trott was unbeaten on 9.
England, however, were 395 runs behind Australia’s first innings total of 462-9 declared, built on Shane Watson’s Test-best 176 and Steven Smith’s 138 not out — his maiden century at this level.
On a sunny day promising good overhead conditions for batting on a sound pitch, England made a solid start to their morning’s work in a match where victory would see them win four Tests in a home Ashes series for the first time.
Root clipped Ryan Harris off his legs for four while left-hander Cook square-drove the fast bowler for a boundary.
Peter Siddle then saw a good length ball stylishly cover-driven to the boundary by Root.
When left-arm paceman Mitchell Starc, a friend of Root’s after playing alongside him at Yorkshire, came on the right-hander clipped him through midwicket for four.
However, Cook’s mediocre series with the bat continued when, three balls after drinks, he followed a delivery angled across him from Harris, Australia’s best bowler of the Ashes, and edged to wicketkeeper Brad Haddin for 25 to end a first-wicket stand worth 68.
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 27 — a far cry from his triumphant 2010-2011 Ashes tour of Australia where he scored 766 runs at 127.66 with three hundreds.
Cook’s exit brought Trott to the crease on the ground where he marked his Test debut with a hundred against Australia in 2009.
Root’s pull off Siddle then saw him to a 145-ball 50 with eight fours.