Aussie openers frustrate England
Having been dismissed for 373 shortly before lunch on the second day - a total slightly under par on a good batting wicket - England's hopes of a series victory were dependant on making early inroads into Australia's mis-firing batting line-up.
But for the first time this summer, openers Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden forged a century stand and guided Australia to a convincing 112 without loss at tea after exposing the limitations of England's gamble to include only four specialist bowlers in their line-up.
Langer was the more aggressive of the pair as Hayden was still searching for the fluency which has escaped him during this series and claimed his third half-century of the summer off only 63 balls.
He reached that landmark by hitting 14 off the opening over from left-arm spinner Ashley Giles, which included two sixes in three balls, and set the tempo for Australia while Hayden concentrated on giving his partner as much of the strike as possible.
England's only chance of making the breakthrough came through all-rounder Paul Collingwood, preferred to James Anderson as Simon Jones' replacement, who almost ended Langer's threatening innings with his eighth delivery.
Attempting to cut a ball which was too close to his body, Langer edged to Marcus Trescothick at slip but he dropped the chance after diving high to his right and enabled Australia's opener to escape on 53.
While Langer raced to an unbeaten 75 at tea, Hayden struggled and took 81 minutes to reach double figures when he cut Steve Harmison for only his second boundary but by tea had progressed to 32.
Resuming on a disappointing 319 for seven, England were hoping wicketkeeper Geraint Jones, who hit a crucial 85 to help win the fourth Test at Trent Bridge, could guide them towards a competitive first-innings total of around 400.
But instead of Jones propelling England forward, it was the tail-enders who again contributed useful runs after defying Australia's efforts to wrap up the innings quickly this morning.
Jones had guided England past the 300-mark the previous evening with an unbeaten 21 and started brightly on the third morning by cutting fast bowler Brett Lee for the first boundary of the day in the second over.
Lee responded superbly to that early blow by knocking back Jones' off-stump with the the next ball, a full-length delivery which evaded a defensive forward lunge and earned Australia an early breakthrough.
But it was a further 11 overs before the tourists tasted success again with Ashley Giles and Matthew Hoggard - the heroes of Trent Bridge after they guided England to their tense triumph - combining again in a determined 20-run stand.
Hoggard was perhaps fortunate to survive a dropped slip chance before he had scored when he edged Glenn McGrath and Langer was unable to take the chance diving across Shane Warne from second slip while Giles survived an appeal for a catch behind in the same over.
Umpire Rudi Koertzen's rejection of that appeal annoyed Australian captain Ricky Ponting, who continued his protests at the end of the over, but only had to wait two further overs before McGrath finally ended the stubborn stand.
Hoggard had batted for 46 minutes for his two runs when he was finally outwitted by a McGrath slower ball, which he chipped straight to Damien Martyn at wide mid-off, but England's resistance was still not broken.
Instead of crumbling, Steve Harmison walked out to bat and went on the offensive, contributing a useful 20 to a 28-run last wicket stand off only 31 balls which took England past 350.
The partnership was finally ended when Warne, introduced into the attack in a desperate attempt to wrap up the innings, won an lbw appeal against Giles despite him pushing well forward to claim his 34th wicket of the series and matching his best Ashes tally set in 1993.
England v Australia
The Brit Oval England Won Toss
Overnight: England 319-7 (A J Strauss 129, A Flintoff 72; S K Warne5-118).
England First Innings
G O Jones b Lee 25
A F Giles lbw b Warne 32
M J Hoggard c Martyn b McGrath 2
S J Harmison not out 20
Extras b4 lb6 w1 nb7 18
Total (105.3 overs) 373
Fall: 1-82 2-102 3-104 4-131 5-274 6-289 7-297 8-325 9-345
Bowling: McGrath 27 5 72 2
Lee 23 3 94 1
Tait 15 1 61 1
Warne 37.3 5 122 6
Katich 3 0 14 0
Australia First Innings Bad Light Stopped Play. Tea
J L Langer not out 75
M L Hayden not out 32
Extras lb2 nb3 pens 0 5
Total 0 wkts (33 overs) 112
To Bat: R T Ponting, D R Martyn, M J Clarke, S M Katich,A C Gilchrist, S K Warne, S W Tait, G D McGrath.
Bowling: Harmison 8 1 21 0
Hoggard 7 1 21 0
Flintoff 7 2 20 0
Giles 7 0 31 0
Collingwood 4 0 17 0
Umpires: B F Bowden and R E Koertzen
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