Warne finally checks Strauss' opening gambit in chess game

England 319-7 Australia
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By the end of another remarkable day of cricket England had reached 319 for 7 in their first innings. In the context of what has taken place so far in this astonishing series, and when one considers how well England have bowled in the last three Test matches, it is at worst a competitive total. But it is still some way short of the score England would have been hoping to compile when Michael Vaughan won a crucial toss at 10am yesterday morning.

Strauss and Warne were outstanding and the chess-like game the pair played made for compelling viewing. Strauss never dominated cricket's greatest bowler, but he seldom looked troubled before a tired push was brilliantly caught by Simon Katich at silly mid-off.

Geraint Jones and Ashley Giles added a further 22 runs before the close of play, but the wicket of Strauss swung the day Australia's way. Jones and Giles are both capable batsmen and England will require the pair to take the home team's total to at least 400 before they can start feeling comfortable.

Accumulating runs will be difficult against the second new ball, but the not out pair, along with Matthew Hoggard and Stephen Harmison, need to eke out every run they can. Vaughan has one fewer bowler to play with in this match following the selectors decision to play Paul Collingwood ahead of James Anderson, and this will make it far harder for England to keep Australia's aggressive batsmen under control.

On a ground where runs can be accumulated at an alarming rate, a score of 380 should not be enough. In 2003 South Africa scored 362 for 4 on the first day of a Test here, and went on to reach 484. England went past South Africa's total and won the match by nine wickets.

England would have been in an even more precarious position but for a 143-run partnership between Strauss and Andrew Flintoff. The pair came together after Warne had reduced England to 131 for 4 in a brilliant 18-over spell.

How the 35-year-old continues to find the energy and desire to keep putting in performances like this is anybody's guess. One runs out of superlatives to describe his actions on a cricket field. At times in this series Warne must have felt as if he is taking on England on his own.

When he was not taking wickets he was taking catches at slip, as he did to remove Flintoff at a time when the Lancashire all-rounder looked set for a sixth Test hundred. After a brief rest Warne returned for another 16-over spell and the wicket of Strauss gave him his 31st five-wicket haul in Test cricket.

Strauss and Flintoff have been good friends since they were made training partners in Bangladesh at the start of Vaughan's tenure as captain. It was a bit of a mismatch to begin with, but they seemed to enjoy batting together, and while they were at the crease England looked to be in control.

Both were watchful to begin with, but as their confidence grew, and as they became accustomed to the pace and bounce of the pitch, the runs began to flow. Flintoff played several thunderous drives during his 72 and even had the audacity to hit Warne straight back over his head for six.

Strauss completed his second century against Australia when he drove Glenn McGrath for four, and it is an innings that will have given him far more pleasure than the one he struck at Old Trafford. Strauss' first Ashes hundred was scored in the second innings of a match, and while England were setting a total. This century, however, was compiled in the most pressured of circumstances.

The left-hander showed his nous by not being drawn into playing the hook shot on a pitch with pace and bounce. Against Brett Lee, who bowled very fast, he reduced his back-lift and nudged the ball behind the wicket, and when facing Warne he abandoned the cut shot, pushed forward and used the sweep.

Vaughan tried to hide his smile at winning the toss, and after 78 minutes of play England looked set to make the most of their captain's good fortune. Trescothick survived a close lbw shout when he was on seven, but batting was proving to be a pleasant experience.

Trescothick drove Warne for four in his first over but in the third he edged a push and Matthew Hayden took a fine catch at slip. Vaughan tried to look busy during his brief stay, but it was a tired and slightly careless clip to midwicket that caused his downfall.

Nobody in this series should be wearier than Warne, who led by example at Hampshire before joining up with the Australian squad at the start of June, but the champion leg-spinner appears to be indestructible. Ian Bell soon followed Vaughan when he pushed forward hopefully at a straight ball and was given out lbw. After a positive start England had lost three wickets to Warne for 22 runs.

And England's position worsened in the fourth over after lunch when Kevin Pietersen was bowled by Warne. The contest between these county teammates has been one of the highlights of the summer, and Warne produced another superb piece of bowling to dismiss his close friend.

Warne went wide of the crease and tossed the ball up a bit more than usual, and this caused Pietersen to be through with his shot before the ball arrived. As Warne celebrated, and the scoreboard changed to 131 for 4, Pietersen looked at the pitch in disbelief.

Collingwood was adjudged lbw and he had every right to be disappointed. Shaun Tait's inswinging yorker hit him outside the line of off-stump and he should not have been given out.

Scoreboard from The Oval

England won toss

ENGLAND - First Innings

M E Trescothick c Hayden b Warne 43

78min, 65 balls, 8 fours

A J Strauss c Katich b Warne 129

350min, 210 balls, 17 fours

*M P Vaughan c Clarke b Warne 11

25min, 25 balls, 2 fours

I R Bell lbw b Warne 0

9min, 7 balls

K P Pietersen b Warne 14

31min, 25 balls, 2 fours

A Flintoff c Warne b McGrath 72

161min, 115 balls, 12 fours, 1 six

P D Collingwood lbw b Tait 7

26min, 26 balls, 1 four

ÝG O Jones not out 21

53min, 39 balls, 4 fours

A F Giles not out 5

38min, 23 balls

Extras (b4, lb6, nb7) 17

Total (for 7, 389min, 88 overs) 319

Fall: 1-82 (Trescothick), 2-102 (Vaughan), 3-104 (Bell), 4-131 (Pietersen), 5-274 (Flintoff), 6-289 (Collingwood), 7-297 (Strauss).

To bat: M J Hoggard, S J Harmison.

Bowling: McGrath 19-5-48-1 (7-1-21-0, 4-1-8-0, 4-0-15-0, 3-2-4-1, 1-1-0-0); Lee 17-3-68-0 (nb3) (4-1-21-0, 6-0-23-0, 6-2-20-0, 1-0-4-0); Tait 15-1-61-1 (nb4) (2-0-15-0, 2-0-7-0, 1-0-11-0, 4-0-14-0, 6-1-14-1); Warne 34-4-118-5 (18-3-55-4, 16-1-63-1); Katich 3-0-14-0 (one spell).

Progress: First day: 50: 49min, 11.1 overs. 100: 101min, 22.5 overs. Lunch: 115-3 (Strauss 42, Pietersen 10) 27 overs. 150: 171min, 38.4 overs. 200: 226min, 51.2 overs. Tea: 213-4 (Strauss 92, Flintoff 39) 55 overs. 250: 272min, 62.3 overs. 300: 355min, 80.1 overs. New ball taken after 86 overs at 315-7.

Strauss' 50: 141min, 79 balls, 8 fours. 100: 253min, 150 balls, 13 fours. Flintoff's 50: 103min, 79 balls, 9 fours.

AUSTRALIA: J L Langer, M L Hayden, *R T Ponting, D R Martyn, M J Clarke, S M Katich, ÝA C Gilchrist, S K Warne, B Lee, S W Tait, G D McGrath.

Umpires: B F Bowden (NZ)and R E Koertzen (SA).

TV replay umpire: J W Lloyds

Match referee: R S Madugalle (S Lanka).

England lead Five-Test series 2-1.