Shane Watson scored just the third hundred of his Test career as England checked Australia’s progress on the first day of the Ashes finale at The Oval yesterday.
At tea Australia were 183 for three, having been 112 for one at lunch, with Watson – dropped on 104 – 121 not out and Steven Smith 15 not out.
The second session saw England spearhead James Anderson (two for 21) bowl Australia captain Michael Clarke to go clear in second place on England’s all-time list of leading Test wicket-takers.
It was no surprise when Clarke, trying to avoid becoming the first Australia captain to lose a Test series in England 4-0, chose to bat first after winning the toss on a good pitch.
England, though, had an early breakthrough when left-hander David Warner played a loose shot outside off-stump to Anderson and was caught behind by wicket-keeper Matt Prior for six to leave Australia 11 for one.
Anderson’s 325th Test wicket saw him draw level with Bob Willis in second place in an England all-time list headed by Ian Botham with 383 wickets.
Warner’s exit brought all-rounder Watson to the crease.
Having started the series as an opener, Watson later appeared at number six and this match saw him filling Australia’s problem position of number three after Usman Khawaja was dropped.
Watson, who has often been out lbw, survived an early leg before appeal from Anderson.
But with England’s bowlers failing to gain much movement, Watson, hitting through the line with confidence, was 80 not out at lunch.
Watson was especially severe on England’s two debutants, striking six fours apiece off-seamer Chris Woakes and left-arm spinner Simon Kerrigan.
But with the debutants given just six overs between them in the second session, runs were harder to come by after lunch.
Chris Rogers – who helped Watson add 107 for the second wicket – fell for 23 when he edged off-spinner Graeme Swann to Jonathan Trott at slip.
Watson, on 91, was struck a painful blow on the side of his head unprotected by his helmet, after he took his eye off a Stuart Broad bouncer.
Anderson then captured the prize wicket of Clarke when he bowled the star batsman via the pad for just seven with a ball that nipped back.
Meanwhile, Watson’s 41-minute spell in the 90s spanning 20 balls ended when he drove Anderson for three through the offside to complete a near three-hour hundred in 114 balls with 16 fours and a six.
However, he should have been out soon afterwards when he edged Anderson only for England captain Alastair Cook to drop a seemingly simple slip catch.
Kerrigan was called for a no-ball as a result of bowling a full-toss above waist height smashed to the boundary by Steven Smith.
At tea, he had the expensive figures of four wicket-less overs for 38 runs.
Both teams made changes following England’s 74-run fourth Test win at Chester-le-Street, with the hosts missing injured all-rounder Tim Bresnan and dropping out-of-form batsman Jonny Bairstow.
Australia, looking for their first win in nine Tests, gave a debut to all-rounder James Faulkner in place of Khawaja, with Mitchell Starc recalled after Jackson Bird was dropped.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd, 2013.