NASSER HUSSAIN: England and Australia have shown brilliance at the Ashes but the first day of the final Test at the Oval was two sides trying to stumble over the finish line
Until Thursday, the wow moments in this series had been down to individual brilliance. On an error-strewn first day at the Oval, though, they were triggered by fatigue.
There were very tired cricketers – mentally and physically – out on the field again and it looked like a lot of them had been asked to go a step too far.
The moment Moeen Ali pulled his groin could turn out to be the most significant of the match, then there was Chris Woakes clutching a knee and Australia’s Mitchell Starc suffering with his shoulder. With so much cricket in such a short space of time, niggles were inevitable.
Moeen’s injury was not just about the here and now, but about the course of the game, because this pitch could turn and you want your frontline spinner at the Oval.
Yes, Joe Root bowled beautifully at Headingley, but Moeen has 200-plus Test wickets. The problem for him going forward is that, as an off-spinner, you use the right groin when you bowl to pivot through your action.
It was an error strewn first day of the fifth and final Ashes Test at the Oval on Thursday
England could have been in a whole heap of trouble if it wasn’t for Alex Carey (pictured) dropping a catch on Harry Brook, who was England’s most prolific player on the day with 85
Nor is it clear how he will be able to bat in the second innings. He should probably have gone off when he suffered the problem. England were going well and he must have acknowledged he’d damaged it quite badly and that if he left the field it was only going to get worse, because he went from batting like a No 3 to exactly how he bats when he is left with only the tail for company.
Moeen went into hit mode and he was looking to make every ball disappear, and on this occasion that was unfortunate because England were well placed and his dismissal sparked three wickets for 11 runs. Having been 184 for three, it placed a completely different complexion on things.
Overall, I thought England batted pretty well, although they also had a bit a luck. There were five dropped catches by Australia and if they had taken the one offered by Harry Brook early on, it could have been a lot worse. At 220 all out, England would have been in a whole heap of trouble.
Brook is such a sweet timer of the ball, such an organised player, and he made them pay. He got bounced out here on debut by South Africa but on this occasion he took it on, and in addition to some good cross-bat shots, he played a couple of wonderful punches down the ground.
His 85 was scored at near enough a run a ball and it was no surprise when Australia finally got him caught in the slips.
Ricky Ponting has been big on bowling a bit wider to him because, like a lot of England’s top seven, he doesn’t leave too many. That’s where he was dropped and that’s where they eventually found success, fishing at one just short of a length outside the off stump.
But I wouldn’t be too critical of the earlier dismissals. As I say, Moeen’s hand was forced, and with Joe Root, you have to balance how many runs he has scored with that shot. He gets a lot running the ball off the face to third man and if it was not his shot, and he was dragging it on or nicking it, you’d say, ‘Why are you doing that?’
Both sides appeared to crumble with Moeen Ali significantly pulling his groin, Chris Woakes clutching his knee and Mitchell Starc continuing to struggle with a shoulder injury
For Root, it’s all about risk and reward. Yes, there is a bit of zip in this pitch and a little sideways movement. The risk therefore might be slightly higher because you can nick it or drag it on.
But in the last year, when the pitches have been excellent in England, Pakistan and New Zealand, he has benefited from it.
Ben Stokes could have been playing straighter but it was such a beauty of a delivery from Starc that he may just have nicked it as opposed to missing it completely, and been out in another fashion.
Crawley similarly was playing across the line but England were intent on scoring at five an over because they feel they maybe see a bit of wet weather around on Monday and they’re desperate for the win.
Therefore they wanted to progress the game and as it was, they were dismissed in pretty good conditions for bowling.
David Warner drops a catch from the bat of Ben Duckett – one of five drops by Australia
Mitchell Marsh dropped a catch from Chris Woakes – with the latter getting off lucky as Todd Murphy also dropped a catch from the England star’s bat
Pat Cummins also failed to run out Brook, yet, despite these errors, Australia have the edge
You can’t have it both ways. You can’t be looking to score quickly and not expect some of these kinds of dismissals.
And give Australia some credit. Pat Cummins said himself that he didn’t have the best of games in Manchester but he was excellent as captain yesterday. All his bowling changes throughout the day had their desired effect as within an over or two a wicket followed.
But the overwhelming feeling was that this was two sides trying to stumble over the finish line.
Australia trying to get to 3-1 to win a first series here since 2001 and England to the 2-2 scoreline they believe their play deserves.
While I marvelled at the brilliance of the sides over the first four games, here I have seen frailties.