|Men’s Ashes: England v Australia, fifth Specsavers Test (day one of five)|
|England 271-8: Buttler 64*, Root 57, M Marsh 4-35|
|Australia: Yet to bat|
Jos Buttler’s late hitting went some way towards rescuing England after a familiarly disappointing batting performance on the opening day of the final Ashes Test against Australia at The Oval.
Buttler crunched three sixes in his 64 not out to take England to 271-8 in an unbroken stand of 45 with reliable tailender Jack Leach.
The home side had earlier lost five wickets for 56 runs to slide from 170-3 to 226-8.
That position could have been worse for England had Joe Root, who made 57, not been dropped three times, while Rory Burns overturned an lbw decision on the way to 47.
When they were together, Australia captain Tim Paine’s decision to field first after winning the toss looked like backfiring.
The tourists were given the ascendancy by 4-35 from Mitchell Marsh, only for Buttler to launch his sensational counter-attack.
By the end, there was the feeling that England are still short of par on what looks to be a true batting surface, but they have been kept in the game by Buttler.
And the pitch may dry out enough for a fourth-innings chase to be tricky for Australia, though that would require England to first find a way to dismiss the prolific Steve Smith, then post a challenging target.
Buttler’s blitz ends fluctuating day
With Australia having already retained the Ashes, there were times when this day had an end-of-term feeling, and both sides showed signs of limping towards the end of an intense summer.
The surprise of Paine opting to field because of a green tinge to the pitch was matched by the decision to omit Mitchell Starc in favour of fellow pace bowler Peter Siddle. There were times when both calls seemed like mistakes.
Catches went down, Siddle was the most lacklustre of the Australian bowlers and, as the sun shone in the afternoon, batting conditions were ideal.
However, England’s deficiencies, their inability to occupy the crease and not throw wickets away, meant they could not take full advantage.
And as Australia improved, they took the upper hand thanks to a combination of Marsh’s bowling and the gifts from a number of England’s batsmen.
Then came Buttler, who switched into one-day mode with some brutal striking. Even with every fielder on the boundary, Australia could not contain him, to the delight of a previously deflated Oval.
Trio keep England afloat
England had a real opportunity to punish Paine when Burns and Root were adding 76 for the second wicket either side of lunch.
Burns scored off his toes and through the covers. Root, after a difficult series, was willing himself on to the front foot.
He was put down at long leg on 24 and by wicketkeeper Paine on 25, both off Cummins, then by second slip Smith off Siddle on 30.
They were parted when Burns needlessly shovelled a pull at Josh Hazlewood to mid-on, but it was the wicket of Root that started the slide.
The skipper has attracted wonderful deliveries all series and this one that nipped away to take the off bail from Pat Cummins was another beauty, albeit Root was in no position to play it.
Buttler saw most of the collapse from the other end, but finally found a willing ally in Leach, who supported Ben Stokes at Headingley and survived for an hour as England battled to save the fourth Test.
Even before he upped the ante, Buttler had played some sumptuous cover drives, yet they were overshadowed by consecutive handsome straight sixes off Hazlewood and a meaty blow over the leg-side rope off the same man.
There were times when he protected Leach from the strike, but by the end the number 10 had faced 31 deliveries for his 10 not out, including fending off the second new ball.
Marsh boosts Australia attack
All-rounder Marsh came in for batsman Travis Head to play his first Test since December and support the Australia pace attack.
There were times when he outshone the rest of the bowlers by swinging the ball on a full length.
He first had Stokes miscue a pull into the hands of point then, after Root fell, was the architect of England’s collapse.
Both Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes played across inswingers to be lbw either side of Sam Curran, who had already survived being leg-before to a Cummins no-ball, slashing to second slip.
Into his 16th over, and just as Buttler was beginning to tick, Marsh pulled up with cramp and had to leave the field.
He returned and managed one more over, but by that point, Buttler was into his clean-hitting stride.
‘Australia will be delighted after having a poor day’
Former England captain Michael Vaughan: “England should have been on course for 400 to at least put some scoreboard pressure on Steve Smith.
“A combination of a lack of application, poor thinking and some decent bowling means England have collapsed again.
“Australia will be delighted with this position given they actually had a poor day.”
England’s Jos Buttler, speaking to TMS: “It’s nice to contribute a little bit. The boys batted really well in the morning and we got ourselves into a fantastic position but could not capitalise.
“Batting has been hard work and not enjoyable this series so I wanted to take the shackles off and play with a smile on my face.”
Australia all-rounder Mitchell Marsh, speaking to Sky Sports: “I was like a kid at Christmas this morning. It can be a long tour when you are not playing. I just wanted to try and get an opportunity at some stage and it was nice to produce today.
“The ball came out reasonably well. I just wanted to come in today and take a few wickets.”