Australia openers frustrate England before sees play abandoned

Australia openers frustrate England before more bad weather brings play to a close on day four of fifth and final Ashes Test with tourists 135-0 and looking to ruin Stuart Broad’s retirement swansong

  • Australia made the perfect start in their pursuit of their second highest chase
  • They made untroubled progress to 135-0 before rain saw play abandoned  
  • They need 249 more with Usman Khawaja on 69 and David Warner 58 not out

If Stuart Broad really was writing his own scripts it is fair to assume he would not have included one last twist that would see Australia romping to a record-breaking target.

That would certainly be a squib even damper than the rain that brought a Manchester-style soggy conclusion to the penultimate day of what has become Broad’s farewell Test.

There is some way still to go Monday if Australia are to reach 384 and pull off the second highest successful chase in their history and the highest by some distance at the Oval.

But they made big strides towards raining on Broad’s parade on Sunday in cruising to 135 not only without loss but without even the semblance of a chance or difficult moment.

Two Australian batsman almost certainly making their own farewell Ashes appearances in David Warner and Usman Khawaja were completely untroubled when Broad took to the field for one last time as one of England’s greatest bowlers.

Usman Khawaja (L) and David Warner frustrated England on day four of the first Test

Australia made big strides towards raining on Broad’s parade on Sunday in cruising to 135

More bad weather caused play to be abandoned as the rain poured down at The Oval

Not even the wave of emotion caused by Broad’s decision on Saturday to call time on a truly outstanding career was enough to inspire England to provide the last big push expected of them and gain the series-levelling victory they deserve.

Instead the ball stubbornly refused to swing or spin, England and this Oval crowd primed for a perfect Broad farewell were surprisingly flat – and Warner and Khawaja helped themselves to unbeaten half centuries with the minimum of fuss.

The fourth day started so well, too. The sun was shining on Broad as he made his way out at a ground that has staged so many famous goodbyes alongside the man with whom he will always be inextricably linked in his strike partner Jimmy Anderson.

This time, though, they were together as last-wicket partners with England looking to extend a lead that already stood at 377 and seemingly already out of Australia’s reach.

Broad was greeted with a guard of honour from Australian players as he made his way out

He pulled what would turn out to be his last ball in Test cricket from over the ropes for six

As Broad walked down the steps of the Bedser Stand he was greeted with a guard of honour from Australian players with whom he has locked horns so often in a career that has been defined by his success in the heat of many an Ashes battle.

At the bottom of the stairs Broad briefly put his arm around his old friend’s shoulders as if to encourage him to share the spotlight but Anderson, 41 on Sunday, was having none of it, as if to emphasise he has no intention of following Broad into the sunset.

Perhaps Anderson was having second thoughts about that by the time he walked off when rain came an hour after lunch because he was innocuous again in bowling 10 overs lacking his trademark movement and any sort of threat.

But any thoughts that England would end the day under pressure were far from the big two’s minds when Broad pulled what would turn out to be his last ball in Test cricket from Mitchell Starc over the ropes for six. Only West Indies and Middlesex’s Wayne Daniel has ever done that before in Test cricket.

Warner and Khawaja helped themselves to unbeaten half centuries with the minimum of fuss

Anderson was to fall to Todd Murphy before Broad could face another ball but England had appeared to have left Australia with an insurmountable challenge to clinch their first away Ashes series triumph in 22 years.

It does not look quite so daunting now. Warner, at 36, has set his own retirement date for his home ground of Sydney in January when Australia face Pakistan but he began here needing a big score to stop Australia pulling the plug on him before he can get there.

That Broad script would have dictated that he quickly got his man for the 18th time in Test cricket but there were to be no alarms for Warner against his nemesis after he had edged Broad just short of Ben Duckett in the gully when he was on seven.

The only time Warner was in any sort of trouble after that came when Anderson delivered what seasoned Jimmy watchers felt was the first beamer they can ever recollect him bowling, a nasty delivery that Warner somehow hit for four while falling off his feet.

By the time the rains came Warner had reached 58 while his fellow 36-year-old in Khawaja had moved on to 69 and again gone past Zak Crawley as the leading run-scorer in this Ashes, only in twice the amount of time.

England had been lacking energy and ideas. Moeen Ali was introduced as early as the 10th over in a bid to replicate the slow turn and occasional uneven bounce that saw Nathan Lyon’s understudy Murphy end up with four wickets.

But it quickly became clear he had not fully recovered from his first day groin injury and Moeen was quickly replaced by Joe Root as England searched in vain for the breakthrough.

It was surprising Ben Stokes held Mark Wood back until the 33rd over but it seemed they were waiting until the ball had deteriorated and Wood could find reverse swing but there was little of it for their fastest bowler when he was eventually introduced.

Wood did generate enough pace to strike Khawaja a nasty blow which damaged both his helmet and the ball but the new one was as unresponsive in English hands after the umpires changed it as the old one and Australia remained unmoved.

They will return on Monday needing another 249 with all wickets in tact to pull off what, frankly, would be a travesty of a scoreline in a 3-1 victory after England have played nearly all the cricket and provided most of the entertainment in this Ashes.

For now introspection can wait because a couple of quick wickets this morning would change the landscape considerably but Broad needs to write that final chapter and get his legs pumping one last time if the old enemy are not to gate-crash his party.

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