London: England’s Harry Brook missed out on a maiden Test century against Australia as the visitors held the upper hand on the opening day of the fifth and final Ashes Test at the Oval on Thursday.
Brook, who had already hit three half centuries in the series, top-scored with an aggressive 85 as England were dismissed for 283 inside 55 overs.
Australia, who lead 2-1 and will claim a first series win in England since 2001 if they avoid defeat, were 61-1, trailing by 222, at the close with opener David Warner the man to fall.
Having won the toss and asked England to bat in murky conditions, Australia will be content with their day’s work and will hope Usman Khawaja (26 not out) can lay the foundations for a first-innings lead on Friday.
Brook had earlier led a counter-attack after England had slipped to 73-3, but he fell in the afternoon session as the hosts lost four wickets for 28 runs.
With the Ashes already retained following the rain-marred contest at Old Trafford, Australia are desperate to silence those who say they have been lucky. England, on the other hand, have a score to settle after being denied victory in Manchester when only 30 overs were possible on the last two days.
Australia skipper Pat Cummins finally won a toss and not surprisingly put England into bat.
Also unsurprising was the way in which England’s openers, Ben Duckett in particular, went about their business, scoring at almost a run a ball in the opening hour.
Duckett struck Mitchell Stark for two boundaries in the fifth over, then flat-batted an 85mph Josh Hazlewood delivery to the ropes in the next, almost cutting fellow opener Zak Crawley in half at the non-striker’s end.
Cummins almost removed Duckett with his first ball of the day but Warner spilled a routine catch at first slip and Crawley was spared as Steve Smith could not cling on to a difficult chance off the bowling of Mitchell Marsh.
The missed opportunities were not too costly for Australia as Duckett was out for a 41 off 41 balls, gloving a leg-side Marsh delivery behind to Alex Carey.
Crawley (22) went in the next over as Cummins produced a superb delivery that veered in, took an edge, and was pouched by Smith for a record 55th catch in Ashes series.
When Joe Root chopped on to Hazlewood having made only five, England were reeling and Brook was lucky when Carey dropped him off Cummins when he had made five.
Brook made the most of his reprieve with some rasping strokes, making 48 off 41 balls before lunch, including two fours and a six off Starc with lunch looming.
Brook and Moeen Ali, who was struggling with a groin injury, continued the assault after the interval with one Cummins over going for 19, including a Moeen six over mid-wicket.
Off-spiner Todd Murphy’s second ball was dispatched to the boundary by Moeen but then England’s wheels came off as they slumped from 183-3 to 212-7.
Moeen was bowled for 34 swiping across the line against the bespectacled Murphy, ending a 111-run fourth-wicket stand.
Ben Stokes (3) had his off stump flattened by a deadly ball from Starc and Jonny Bairstow (4) played on to a ball by Hazlewood. Brook then tried to thrash Starc to the boundary but only succeeded in edging to Smith who took a sharp catch.
Chris Woakes was dropped twice as he made a useful 36 while Mark Wood chipped in with a handy 28. Starc was the pick of the Australian bowlers with 4-82.
Australia made diligent progress with Warner and Khawaja rock solid before Woakes struck in the 17th over with Warner fending a delivery to a diving Crawley at second slip.