|Shane Watson after his century, at The Oval, on Wednesday
London: Shane Watson’s magnificent 176, his first century in three years, put Australia in command at 307 for four at the end of Day I of the fifth and final Ashes Test, here, at The Oval, on Wednesday.
Watson started out all guns blazing and, after being struck on the head by a Stuart Broad bouncer, he dug in to post his highest Test score apart from sharing a fourth-wicket partnership of 145 with Steve Smith who was batting on 66.
England, seeking to win a home Ashes series 4-0 for the first time, endured a tough day in the field after handing shock debuts to all-rounder Chris Woakes and left-arm spinner Simon Kerrigan, who conceded 53 runs in his eight nervous overs.
Barring James Anderson, none of the other England bowlers could have an impact before a rampaging Watson. To speak of Anderson, he bowled his heart out on conditions favouring the batting side. And justifiably, his effort bore fruit as he became the second highest wicket-taker for England in Tests with the prised scalp of Michael Clarke, which took his tally to 326, second only to Ian Botham’s 383.
Clarke won the toss and had no hesitation in choosing to bat under clear blue skies on a wicket, which traditionally offers little help to bowlers during the initial stages of a Test.
England made an early breakthrough with the total on 11 when James Anderson drew David Warner into a loose drive and the opener, on six, edged a regulation catch to wicket-keeper Matt Prior.
Anderson and Stuart Broad bowled tight opening spells, but there was precious little movement and England captain Alastair Cook soon turned to off-spinner Graeme Swann, who has been a nemesis for the visitors in this series.
Chris Rogers played out three successive maidens from Swann, but runs flowed more freely at the other end with Watson hitting three boundaries in an over off Woakes who struggled to find a good length.
Watson pulled Woakes powerfully for another boundary and danced down the pitch to lift Swann over long-on for half-a-dozen before reaching his half-century with a single off Kerrigan’s first ball in Test cricket.
He smashed the spinner for 28 runs off the latter’s first two overs and had romped to 80 when Australia went into lunch at a healthy 112 for one.
Broad bowled a hostile spell at the start of the post-lunch session and Swann removed Rogers for a painstaking 23 off 100 balls. The left-hander edged a turning delivery low to Jonathan Trott at slip.
Watson, on 91, was struck on the side of the head by a ferocious short-pitched delivery from Broad and Clarke, after taking 39 balls to get to seven, was bowled by a fine delivery from Anderson that nipped back to rattle his stumps after ricocheting off his pads.
Spending 41 minutes in the 90s, Watson drove Anderson through cover for three to reach his third Test hundred.
He should have been Anderson’s 327th victim when, on 104, he edged the ball to Cook at slip only for the captain to spill a simple chance.
Runs continued to flow in the final session as well after Australia resumed at 183 for three, with Smith giving great company to Watson.
Smith got to his half century, off 113 balls, and Watson survived an lbw appeal off Woakes, correctly reviewing the decision after being given out.
The second new ball finally gave England the breakthrough. Watson pulled a short ball from Broad to deep backward square leg where Kevin Pietersen held on to a superb diving catch.
No wonder Watson received a standing ovation as he trudged back to the pavilion after nearly six hours at the crease, composing an innings laced with 25 fours and a six.
On the other hand, Smith will resume on 66 in the second day morning with night-watchman Peter Siddle (batting on 18) as Australia will look to strengthen theirtotal. (Reuters)