LONDON (Reuters) - England, inspired by Kevin Pietersen’s brilliant 62, narrowly missed out on a dramatic victory as the fifth Ashes test ended in a draw on an enthralling final day at The Oval on Sunday.
The hosts, chasing 227, were 21 runs short of their target when bad light forced the players off the field with four overs remaining, depriving a packed crowd of a thrilling finish and leaving England to settle for a 3-0 series win.
Captain Michael Clarke had declared Australia’s second innings on 111 for six and set England a challenging target in a bid to force a consolation victory but it was the hosts who went close to sealing their first 4-0 win in a home Ashes series.
“We wanted to entertain,” Pietersen told reporters.
“We lost a day’s play and we like to entertain. I was in my own bubble - I was just trying to get through stages. I had flashbacks of 2005 but the way we played today puts us in good stead for the winter.”
England, criticised for their ultra-cautious batting in the first innings on Friday, started their run chase positively and Alastair Cook hit two fours in the first over bowled by Ryan Harris.
Joe Root, on 11, edged Harris to wicketkeeper Brad Haddin before Cook and Jonathan Trott shared a fluent second-wicket partnership of 64 to lay a solid platform.
Cook was trapped lbw by James Faulkner for 34 and Pietersen strode to the middle in a perfect situation to display his attacking talents.
The tall right-hander struck his first boundary off his fourth ball and immediately injected urgency into the run chase, creaming Peter Siddle through the covers for four and flicking him to fine leg for another.
Pietersen and Trott posted their 50 partnership off 48 balls and Pietersen got to his own half-century from just 36 deliveries, including nine fours.
With the crowd sensing a famous victory, Trott also passed 50 before Pietersen fell with the score on 163, well caught by David Warner running round the long-on boundary off Harris.
Trott was snared lbw by Faulkner for 59 but Ian Bell and Chris Woakes kept the momentum going and England needed 36 from the last six overs.
Bell was run out for 17 by Starc’s direct hit and, with four overs remaining and England on 206 for five, the umpires ordered the players off the field to a chorus of boos.
The result was confirmed shortly afterwards and the awards ceremony took place in rapidly fading light.
It was an unexpected finale to the match after Saturday was washed out by rain, England starting the final day on 247 for four and needing 46 runs to avoid the follow-on.
Woakes, on 25, soon edged a good-length ball from Harris straight to Clarke at second slip but Matt Prior played positively from the start, clipping Siddle through mid-wicket for two to take England to the follow-on target of 293.
Bell, continuing his rich vein of form to reach an assured 45, was unlucky to be out when he flicked Faulkner down the leg-side and was well caught by Haddin.
Starc uprooted Stuart Broad’s middle stump but Graeme Swann immediately went on the offensive, dancing down the pitch to hit off-spinner Nathan Lyon straight for six and lift England to 350 for seven at lunch.
Prior, on 47, skied Faulkner to mid-on where Starc ran round to take a fine diving catch and James Anderson edged the same bowler to Haddin who took a record-equalling 28th catch of the series.
Swann’s breezy innings ended on 34 when he was bowled by Faulkner who completed figures of four for 51 in his first test as England were dismissed for 377.
Australia shuffled their order in a bid to make quick runs but the move back-fired.
David Warner was out for 12, Shane Watson 26, Haddin for a first-ball duck and Faulkner for 22 as Australia stumbled to 67 for four.
Broad then dismissed Steve Smith and Harris before Clarke, who made 28 not out, and Starc, 13 not out, batted through to tea when the captain declared.
“It was an exciting finish and the light came to save us I suppose,” said Watson who was named man of the match for his superb knock of 176 in the first innings.
”After losing a day to rain we knew we had to try and win the game and that was by setting a total that England would chase.
“It didn’t work out for us, but the crowd had a good day and that’s what we are here for.” (Editing by John Mehaffey)