Jos Buttler tonked 64 not out from 84 balls to lift England up to 271-8 by stumps on day one at The Oval after an afternoon batting collapse had them in trouble at 205-7.
England lost four wickets for 35 runs early on in the final session, having been reasonably well placed at 169-3 at tea, captain Joe Root (57) cashing in on three earlier dropped chances to bring up a 45th Test fifty.
Australia dried up the runs after the interval and, after Pat Cummins bowled Root for the second-successive Test, Mitchell Marsh (4-35) – seeing his first action for the series – ran through the lower order before Buttler’s big-hitting heroics.
Australia have already retained the Ashes, leading 2-1 heading into this fifth and final Test, but are looking for their first outright series win in England in 18 years.
For much of the day, Australia’s decision to insert England after winning the toss appeared to be a questionable one, with assistance from The Oval surface proving hard to come by for their seamers, with the exception of Marsh, who found prodigious swing throughout his 16.1 overs.
Joe Denly (14) fell in the ninth over, looking to drive Cummins (2-73) and sending a thick edge to Steve Smith at second slip, who clung on at the third attempt after a juggled effort.
Rory Burns earlier survived an lbw shout from Josh Hazlewood – initially given, but shown to be too high and overturned on review – while Root was struggling at the other end but, in and around Australia’s miscues in the field, the pair looked reasonably comfortable in sharing a 76-run stand for the second wicket.
Root was put down twice in consecutive Cummins overs before lunch, when on 24 and 25, and then again – this time off Peter Siddle – in the first over back after the interval.
Siddle was the guilty party first up, shelling a simple chance at fine leg, while wicketkeeper Tim Paine failed to hold on to a routine outside edge. Smith shelled the third chance – a trickier one, diving to his right at second slip – with the England skipper on 30.
Shortly after that third reprieve, Root became the 12th English batsman – and the fastest in history, in terms of time – to reach 7,000 Test runs, while Burns brought up England’s 100 with a full-blooded drive for four through the covers.
But just as Burns (47) began to look set after another battling knock, he top-edged Hazlewood (2-76) to mid-on. Ben Stokes came in and looked in sublime touch for his 20 before too gifting his wicket away with a top-edge, this one off Marsh that skewed to point.
Root and Bairstow, in particular, played positively through to tea as batting again began to look easy but, after the interval, Australia dried the runs up and it triggered the familiar sight in this series of an England collapse.
Cummins finally accounted for Root, not needing any assistance in the field on this occasion as he bowled the England captain with a beauty that nipped away off the seam to beat his outside edge.
Bairstow (22), meanwhile, having been tied up for 21 balls without scoring a run, perished to a vicious Marsh inswinger that trapped him in front – set up for precisely that delivery after having faced a steady stream of outswingers prior.
Sam Curran (15) crammed a four, a six, and two dismissals – one called back due to a Cummins no-ball – into his 13-ball stay at the crease before flashing hard to second slip, while Marsh added Chris Woakes (2) lbw to another yorker in his next over.
Jofra Archer’s wicket, nicking off for nine to a beauty from Hazlewood, triggered a change in approach from Buttler, as he blasted back-to-back sixes straight down the ground to start the seamer’s next over.
Buttler pulled Hazlewood into the stands once more to bring up a 60-ball fifty, as he and Headingley hero Jack Leach (10no) frustrated Australia in the final hour in racking up an unbroken 45-run stand through to stumps.
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