England down but not out as a solid start slips away

Strauss left to hope that 307-8 may be enough on pitch that offers bowlers help
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The Independent Sport

Andrew Strauss promised that the mistakes of Headingley would not be repeated. But while England's batsmen made life harder for Australia's bowlers at The Oval yesterday, they still have no more than their fingertips on the Ashes urn. But at least that is a start.

After being rolled over for 102 in the fourth Test, some improvement from a reworked top order was almost inevitable – and, on a bone-dry pitch nothing like the strokemaker's paradise that most people had predicted, England's total of 307 for 8 may turn out to be quite a bit better than it looked at first glance last night.

Most home supporters among a capacity crowd of 24,000 could not help but come to the conclusion, however, that Strauss's men had lost three or four more wickets than they should have done with Ian Bell, debutant Jonathan Trott and the captain himself getting good starts but failing to add to England's century count in this series.

That still stands at one – Strauss's 161 at Lord's – but Bell believes enough was achieved yesterday to keep alive hopes of an Ashes-pinching victory.

"With the starts we had we could have been in a slightly better position but this doesn't feel like your usual Oval pitch, with pace and bounce, and with the spin we've seen on day one we are quite happy we've got 300 on the board," said the Warwickshire batsman, who responded to being restored to No 3 by making 72.

"Until Australia have batted we won't know what a good first-innings score is, but it is taking a lot of spin already. Hopefully, that's a good thing for us and I don't think it will be particularly easy to bat last on.

"It feels to me that there is more likely to be a positive result this time than on some of the pitches we've had at The Oval in the past."

Although Australia's seamers did the damage, with Peter Siddle taking 4 for 63, the part-time off-spinner Marcus North caused plenty of problems, suggesting that the visitors could yet regret fielding an unchanged side rather than bringing back their specialist slow bowler, Nathan Hauritz.

"When you look at it with hindsight I suppose it's a little bit surprising [that Hauritz was omitted], but they beat us in two and half days at Headingley, so it would have been pretty hard to have left out one of those bowlers," Bell said.

"But it is not our job to worry about Australia's team. We've got Graeme Swann in our side and, hopefully, he will make the most of these conditions. This game is in the balance and it looks like it is going to be a great Test."

Strauss could count himself a little unlucky, having been dismissed by what should have been called a no-ball, with umpire Billy Bowden failing to spot that Ben Hilfenhaus had overstepped the crease by an inch or two. And there was also a suggestion that Siddle strayed beyond the line when bowling Bell off an inside edge.

But neither batsman will need telling that they contributed to their own downfall after making half- centuries. "I was pleased with the way I played but it was frustrating not to go on and get a hundred," Bell said.

With Andrew Flintoff – given the first of several standing ovations, no doubt – unable to make a fairy-tale start to his final Test before retirement and Trott brilliantly run out by Simon Katich from short leg, England's innings slipped away. But Bell insists all is not lost, Siddle agrees that the match is evenly poised going into the second day and England's Ashes dream has not yet turned to dust.