England squander wickets but pitch gives hope
LONDON (Reuters) - Australia claimed the honours on the opening day of the final Ashes test at the Oval on Thursday after England again found a variety of ways to squander their wickets.
England, needing a win to reclaim the Ashes, were 307 for eight at the close of another fascinating day in the series, on a pitch their batsman Ian Bell said resembled a turning Indian surface rather than a typical Oval track.
Marcus North extracted sharp turn with his occasional off-spin after the pitch had been left uncovered on Wednesday to bake under the hottest day of the English summer.
Bell, who justified the decision to promote him to the pivotal number three position with the top score of 72, said it had been frustrating at times trying to time the ball.
"I guess after the spin we have seen on day one which is quite unusual for here we are quite happy to have runs on the board," he told a news conference. "We don't know what is a good score here until Australia bat.
"It is very unusual at the Oval to see it spinning like that and so dry and hopefully that's a good thing for us. I don't think it will be particularly easy to bat last on."
Neither team could have anticipated how the pitch would play.
England left out their second spinner Monty Panesar and Australia omitted Nathan Hauritz, keeping faith with the pace attack who bowled the home side out twice within three days in the fourth test at Headingley.
Andrew Strauss won the toss for the fourth time and England's only century-maker of the series moved confidently to 55 with 11 boundaries punched square of the wicket.
He was out shortly after lunch caught behind from a straight delivery from Ben Hilfenhaus, although television replays indicated it had been a no-ball.
The remaining top-order batsman played similarly indifferent shots.
Alastair Cook departed early for 10, steering a Peter Siddle delivery to Ricky Ponting at second slip, Paul Collingwood (24) slashed Siddle to gully, Bell edged his first ball after tea from Siddle on to the stumps, Matt Prior (18) spooned Mitchell Johnson to cover and Andrew Flintoff (7) sliced a wide delivery from Johnson to wicketkeeper Brad Haddin.
Jonathan Trott made a promising debut with 41 before he was smartly run out by Simon Katich at short-leg and Graeme Swann (18) took his team past the 300 mark when before he became Siddle's fourth victim.
Siddle was the pick of the bowlers with his bustling aggression and sharp pace, ending the day with four for 63 from 18.3 overs.
Johnson started where he had finished in Headingley, bowling three vicious bouncers in a row at Bell who showed little aptitude against the short ball.
To his credit Bell emerged intact to reach his 21st test half-century before another lapse in concentration.
"I knew that was something that was going to be thrown my way and obviously I knew Johnson was going to be on pretty quickly," Bell said.
Siddle agreed with Bell that there would definitely be a result in the match.
"But if you are consistent and patient enough with bat and ball you will do well out there," he said.