Zak Crawley continued his excellent series with an unbeaten 50 on the third morning of the final Ashes Test to help England into a position of strength at the Kia Oval.
Crawley signalled his intentions from ball one on Saturday with another booming drive through cover and walked off at lunch on 71 not out with England on 130 for one, a lead of 118.
Ben Duckett had played his shots and hit seven boundaries on his way to 42 before Mitchell Starc claimed a semblance of revenge by snarling a faint edge, having seen his first two overs go for 22 runs.
It left England on 79 for one and Ben Stokes joined Crawley at the crease with Moeen Ali, the hosts’ emergency number three, consigned to the pavilion until 120 minutes of the innings had passed or the fall of the fifth wicket.
Stokes eased into his new role with largely a watching front while Crawley upped the ante down the other end, taking a liking to Todd Murphy to establish his place at the top of the run-scoring charts for this series on 478.
After Australia were all out for 295 from the last ball of day two, Crawley and Duckett walked out to glorious sunshine in south London with a 12-run deficit to wipe out.
England took six balls to move into a lead with Crawley beginning his final innings of the series in the same vein he started this Ashes at Edgbaston, crunching his first delivery through cover for four.
Starc was on the receiving end this time and his opening two overs went for 22 runs, more than the 21 Australia had ground out during an pedestrian first hour on Friday.
There was no chance of England adopting that type of approach with the culture clash between the two teams continuing as Duckett clipped and cut away for four with ease to put on a fifty stand with Crawley inside nine overs.
Baggy Green captain Pat Cummins had already brought himself on by this point but with plenty of men pushed back to the boundary rope, England’s openers now milked the singles on offer to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
Soft hands from Crawley allowed him to run the ball down to third man to end a sequence of five overs without a boundary, but Australia did finally make the breakthrough after nearly 90 minutes of play on day three.
It was Starc who struck in the first over of his second spell when Duckett’s booming drive got the faintest of edges and despite umpire Kumar Dharmasena saying not out, Cummins’ review showed a spike on UltraEdge and the England opener departed for 42.
Stokes entered the fray at three, but it quickly turned into the Crawley show with three runs off a Cummins misfield at mid-off bringing up his half-century off 61 balls.
Better was to follow with Starc pulled away for another boundary before Murphy was swept for four from consecutive balls to bring up the 50 partnership for the second wicket with Crawley unbeaten on 71 at lunch.
Press Association – George Sessions