Root rides luck to lift England
LONDON (Reuters) – Joe Root led a charmed life to make an unbeaten 57 and lead England to 169 for three at tea on the first day of the fifth and final Ashes Test against Australia at The Oval on Thursday.
Captain Root was dropped three times in a sloppy fielding performance by the Australians, who have retained the Ashes and are bidding to secure a 3-1 victory in the series.
Rory Burns scored 47 before a rush of blood cost him his wicket and another injudicious shot by Ben Stokes ended his innings on 20 as England faltered in the afternoon session.
But Root, who passed 7,000 runs in Tests, and Jonny Bairstow (22 not out) took the hosts through to the interval without further loss.
Australia had won the toss on an overcast morning and it was a surprise when their captain Tim Paine sent England into bat.
Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood bowled tidy opening spells but the touring side’s vaunted pace attack lacked the consistent threat which has caused problems for England’s fragile top order throughout the series.
Joe Denly, on 14, played a loose stroke at a widish delivery from Cummins and edged to second slip where Steve Smith fumbled the chance before grabbing the ball before it hit the ground.
The opening partnership of 27 was the highest of the series but it was another failure for the 33-year-old Denly, who made battling fifties in the last two Tests without staking a claim to a long-term place in the team.
Root, badly dropped on 24 by Peter Siddle at fine leg after playing a casual pull stroke, was also put down by Paine off Cummins as the wicketkeeper failed to take the ball one-handed in front of first slip and England reached lunch at 86-1.
Root was given another life when Smith spilled a sharp chance in the slips but Burns hit seven fours in another determined knock.
The young opening batsman was in sight of his half century when he got cramped up by a short ball from Hazlewood and spooned a simple catch to Mitchell Marsh at mid-wicket.
Stokes, loudly cheered to the wicket after his match-winning century in the third Test, started cautiously before he was tempted into a wild heave at the gentle medium pace of Marsh and the ball looped off a leading edge to Nathan Lyon at point.
England looked in danger of wasting their solid start in good batting conditions but Root got to a patient fifty, off 105 balls, and will look to register his first Test century of the summer to give his side the chance to level the series.