Jos Buttler saved England’s blushes on Thursday, counter-attacking against Australia to lift his side to 271-8 after they collapsed on the opening day of the fifth Ashes Test.
World Cup winners England, desperate to level the series at 2-2, have struggled to find consistency and contributed to their own downfall at the Oval, slipping from 170-3 to 226-8.
But Buttler, who struggled early on, dipped into his white-ball playbook, smashing paceman Josh Hazlewood for successive sixes as Jack Leach dug in at the other end.
Buttler ended the day 64 not out, while Leach was unbeaten on 10 but England will need to add runs on Friday on what looks like a good pitch for batting.
Australian all-rounder Mitchell Marsh claimed four wickets on his return to the side. Pat Cummins and Hazlewood were again impressive for the tourists.
“If you bowl well, there’s wickets there, but if you bat well and apply yourself there’s runs there,” Buttler told Sky Sports. “We’ll hopefully try to get a few more in the morning.”
Speaking about his own innings, Buttler, who reached his 50 off 60 balls, including three sixes, said: “It was tough to start with.
“I’ve found batting tough all summer in this series so it was nice in the end to take the shackles off and try to have some fun.”
Australia eye Ashes win
Australia are seeking their first Ashes series win in England for 18 years and Marsh said the tourists were pleased with their day’s work despite England’s late flourish.
“It (the score) could have been even less than that if we’d held our catches early on,” he said. “We spoke about coming here and wanting to win the series 3-1.
“It probably wasn’t reflected in our first session but you drop catches sometimes. It could have been better but we’d definitely take eight for 270 on that.”
Australia captain Tim Paine won the toss and put the home side in under grey skies. Joe Root then enjoyed astonishing good fortune as England reached 170-3.
The skipper was dropped three times but failed to make the most of his lucky escapes, comprehensively bowled for 57 by Cummins shortly after tea.
Root has reached fifty 61 times in Tests but has gone on to reach three figures on just 16 occasions.
By contrast, Australia’s former captain Steve Smith, who has dominated the Ashes with his bat, has reached fifty 52 times and made 26 hundreds — a far better conversion rate.
Root was dropped on 24 by Peter Siddle on the boundary. Then wicket keeper Paine failed to cling on to a one-handed chance in front of David Warner at first slip. Both drops were off Cummins.
Shortly after lunch, with the ground now bathed in sunshine, the skipper had yet another reprieve when a diving Smith failed to hold on to a sharp chance at second slip off Siddle.
Root drove Hazlewood square of the wicket to bring up 7,000 Test runs in his 158th innings but he eventually ran out of lives.
Jonny Bairstow followed shortly afterwards, lbw to Marsh for 22.
Bairstow’s dismissal brought all-rounder Sam Curran to the wicket and he hooked Cummins for six but he was dismissed for just 15, caught by Smith at second slip off a reckless drive.
Earlier, opener Rory Burns (47) and Ben Stokes (20) were guilty of throwing their wickets away with careless shots as England’s top order struggled again.
Australia won at Old Trafford last week to take a 2-1 lead in the five-match series, meaning they will retain the Ashes urn regardless of the result at the Oval.