By Matthew Sherry at the Kia Oval and Chris Devine
Shane Watson put his recent struggles to one side by ending a near-three-year century drought as Australia enjoyed the better of day one in the fifth and final Investec Ashes Test at the Kia Oval.
It had been 24 games since Watson last crossed the three-figure threshold in this format – a run that was threatening his place in the side ahead of the reverse rubber this winter.
But being promoted to number three, which ensured he had batted from positions one to six in 2013 alone, heralded a turnaround.
Having come in with the tourists, already beaten in the series, 11 for one, Watson silenced many critics by batting for most of the day as Australia amassed 307 for four. He departed just prior to the close for 176, yet Steven Smith remained on 66.
Watson's efforts ultimately overshadowed a typically skilful display from James Anderson, who passed Bob Willis to become England’s second-most prolific five-day bowler by claiming 2-52.
That the extremely talented Watson had only two tons to show for a 45-Test career prior to today was remarkable, especially given he has hit seven in one-day international cricket.
His ability is not in question. Today’s effort featured a series of punishing sporadic attacks, solid defence and no little poise.
Yet sustaining concentration over significant periods has all too often proved beyond Watson, who has an unhappy knack of getting out when well set.
Except for surviving a drop from Alastair Cook at slip off Anderson on 104, there were no such problems today.
Indeed, even being floored by a vicious Stuart Broad bouncer – which missed the helmet and crunched him below the ear – on 91 could not alter his focus.
He was to end the day eyeing a first Test double-century, his 347-minute stay offering signs that Australia may finally have found an answer at a number-three spot that has been problematic since Ricky Ponting’s retirement.
Those home fans hoping England would take steps towards putting an emphatic stamp on their Ashes triumph were given early cause for optimism.
Anderson got one to nip away from David Warner, who - attempting a typically punchy drive - feathered behind.
Yet the familiar combination of Watson and Chris Rogers, Australia’s openers for much of the series, responded impressively.
With his partner dropping anchor, the former clearly decided attack was the best form of defence.
Having signalled his intentions via a collection of glorious cover drives, he found further success when targeting England debutants Chris Woakes and left-arm spinner Simon Kerrigan.
The latter, in particular, came in for heavy punishment as his two-over spell prior to lunch yielded 28 runs, 24 from boundaries.
Alastair Cook’s response was to revert back to the tried-and-tested combination of Broad and Graeme Swann.
The decision paid dividends as, just after the interval, Rogers played back and edged the latter to Jonathan Trott at first slip.
With Swann keeping things tight at one end, Broad embarked upon a fiery spell at the other.
While the aforementioned delivery to Watson was most notable, it was his efforts to skipper Michael Clarke that bore the most fruit.
He unsettled Australia’s best batsman with impressive hostility – a spell that ultimately earned Anderson reward as Clarke was bowled via pad.
Watson’s moment to savour came soon after, his first Ashes century brought up with a guided three through point.
He enjoyed some good fortune soon after, Cook dropping a sitter at first slip that would have given Anderson a third wicket.
There were to be few other alarms on a flattening surface, though, as he and Smith enjoyed the luxury of being able to hit confidently through the line.
The innings was an important one, too, for Smith – who has shown a similar penchant to Watson for getting in but not kicking on in this series.
Despite getting his innings going with a big shot off Swann – his aerial drive flew over the rope at long-off – he clearly made a concerted effort to bat long.
The upshot was frustration aplenty for England, which was only enhanced when replays overturned umpire Kumar Dharmasena’s decision to give Watson, hit on the pad trying to pull one that kept low, out on 166.
A first Test wicket would have been fair reward for Woakes’ steady improvement over the day but, alas, it was not to be as replays showed the ball was going over the top.
Their annoyance ended with three overs remaining, however, as Kevin Pietersen took an outstanding diving catch at deep backward square to account for Watson and provide Broad with a deserved scalp.
Live Text Commentary
6:16pm - STUMPS - Aus 307/4; Smith 66; Siddle 18 - Australia avoid any further setbacks as Siddle helps himself to a trio of twos in the day's final set of six.
6:11pm - Siddle moves swiftly into double figures with his second four, which comes courtesy off a fine glance off Anderson. England’s spearhead responds with a snorter that swings away late to beat the bat. We have one over to come this evening.
6:06pm - That outstanding catch by Pietersen has provided a welcome boost late in the day. Peter Siddle is in as nightwatchman for Australia.
6:01pm - WICKET! Watson c Pietersen b Broad 176; Aus 289/4 - What a catch!! It felt like something special would be needed to remove Watson and Kevin Pietersen has provided it, diving to pull off a stunning take at deep backward square. That ends a terrific innings.
5:57pm - You have to feel for Broad. He beats Smith with a jaffa that nips back and somehow misses everything. To compound the paceman’s frustration, his next ball is edged through third man. Anderson duly finds Watson's edge but the result is another boundary.
5:50pm - Watson will make the headlines but Smith has been impressive. He dents Anderson's figures with successive fours off front and back foot.
5:43pm - A pull from Smith narrowly evades Trott at midwicket and races away. Broad unsurprisingly shares the fresh cherry and immediately concedes four through backward point to Watson, who is now 170 not out.
5:35pm - REVIEW - It's definitely Watson's day. The man derided for his use of DRS this summer successfully overturns an lbw decision that initially went in Woakes' favour. Watson was struck on the leg pulling but replays show the ball would have gone over the stumps. Woakes will have to wait for his maiden Test scalp. England subsequently take the new ball and recall Anderson.
5:29pm - FIFTY! Smith (113b 5x4 1x6) - England opt against taking the second new ball immediately. Swann continues and Smith takes a single to long-on to reach 50.
5:18pm - There is a change of ends for Woakes, who is brought back to bowl the 78th over of the innings. The first ball of his spell is driven through the covers by Smith.
Australia 253-3 with Watson 164* & Smith 42* #Ashes
— England Cricket (@ECB_cricket) August 21, 2013
5:08pm - CENTURY PARTNERSHIP - Watson cuts for four facing James Anderson and has now shared in two three-figure stands.
5:02pm - Alastair Cook has given Kerrigan an opportunity to settle with a longer spell. Smith is a fine player of spin, however, and advances to collect four through midwicket at the end of the Lancastrian’s eighth over. Drinks are taken with Australia 240 for three and the stand worth 96.
4:47pm - Kerrigan sees an optimistic lbw shout turned down when Smith props forward. That was a much better over from the left-arm spinner. It has just been announced, meanwhile, that fellow debutant Woakes has been awarded an increment contract by the ECB.
4:45pm - 150! Watson (194b 22x4 1x6) - Smith aims a powerful heave at Swann and almost clears the ropes at wide long-on. Watson then moves to 150 with a glanced four off Broad. England could do with a breakthrough here and Simon Kerrigan is going to get another bowl.
6 - Michael Clarke has been bowled six times in his last 12 Test dismissals. He had been bowled once in his preceding 17 dismissals. Phase.
— OptaJason (@OptaJason) August 21, 2013
4:37pm - A glorious drive down the ground off Stuart Broad earns Watson his 20th four. Having fulfilled virtually every batting slot this summer, he is making a strong case to stay at first drop for a prolonged period. Australia are now 215 for three.
Broad back into the attack, bowling to Watson who's guiding him to deep point for two. He's on 133, Smith 26. 3-206 #Ashes
— Cricket Australia (@CricketAus) August 21, 2013
4:24pm - Woakes drops short for the first time in this session and Smith cashes in with a pulled four that takes the partnership past 50. When Swann also errs in length soon after, Watson finds the fence to move past his previous Test best.
4:15pm - An lbw appeal from Woakes against Shane Watson goes unanswered, with the ball seemingly sliding down leg. Swann is continuing to bowl from round the wicket at Smith, who remains keen to use his feet whenever possible. Earlier today, ecb.co.uk spoke to Nick Knight and you can hear what he had to say in the video below.
4:07pm - Steven Smith almost pays a high price for a mix-up between the wickets, but just about makes it back to the non-striker’s end as Jonathan Trott’s throw from fine-leg whistles past the stumps. Chris Woakes and Graeme Swann are sharing bowling duties.
4pm - A few evening wickets could dramatically change the complexion of this opening day. Watson resumes after tea needing six runs to surpass his highest Test score of 126.
Highlights of the afternoon session at the Kia Oval, which saw Shane Watson end a long run without a Test century
3:41pm - TEA! Australia 183/3; Watson 121, Smith 15 - Smith picks up another boundary as Simon Kerrigan sends down a no-ball that is above waist height and pulled through square-leg. Australia remain on top but that was a better session for England.
— adidas UK (@adidasUK) August 21, 2013
3:30pm - Chris Woakes comes back into the attack but, having looked a little more threatening, concedes four as Watson drives through cover.
3:04pm - MISSED CHANCE! - It's all happening at the moment. Alastair Cook drops a sitter at first slip to oust Watson off Anderson for 104 before Steven Smith announces himself by crunching Swann for a big six over long-off.
2:50pm - CENTURY! Watson (114b 16x4 0x6) - It had been 24 Tests, 48 innings and three years since Shane Watson's last century, but he has been outstanding today. He reaches three figures with a push through the off side for three.
2:42pm - WICKET! Clarke b Anderson 7; Australia 144/3 - James Anderson is the beneficiary of the earlier good work from his colleagues, nipping one back to bowl Clarke via pad. The hosts have been excellent in the hour since lunch. That scalp means Anderson overtakes Bob Willis as England's second-most prolific Test bowler.
2:30pm - The Broad-Swann partnership continues to prove fruitful. Runs have dried up and the pressure is mounting.
2:13pm - That's nasty. Broad sends down a vicious bouncer that misses Watson's helmet and hits him under the ear. He was down for a little while but will bat on, which is good news.
— Investec Cricket (@InvestecCricket) August 21, 2013
2:08pm - Ah, this is Test cricket. There's none of that hitting from earlier, with Stuart Broad and Michael Clarke engaged in a good, old-fashioned duel. The former nearly comes out on top as, delivering some chin music, he watches the Australia skipper glove one in the air, the ball narrowly missing the stumps when it comes down.
1:55pm - WICKET! Rogers c Trott b Swann 23; Australia 118/2 - I was just about to write about England needing to dry up the runs and build some pressure. Instead, they get a wicket as Chris Rogers, playing back, edges Graeme Swann to first slip.
1:40pm - The players are back out and play has recommenced. While you're waiting for another update, why not watch our exclusive interview with Mike Gatting?
1pm - LUNCH! Australia 112/1; Watson 80, Rogers 21 - The combination of Swann and the returning Broad helps England restore some order, but there is little doubt that Australia had the better of the morning session on the back of Watson and Rogers' century stand.
In all first-class cricket before today, Shane Watson had scored 1,756 runs at 50.17 in 39 innings batting at no.3, with 5x100 & 9x50 #Ashes
— BBC TMS (@bbctms) August 21, 2013
12:40pm - This has the feel of a Twenty20 at the moment. Watson is teeing off against Kerrigan, hitting six fours in his first two overs either side of Rogers driving Swann to the rope.
12:31pm - FIFTY! Watson (61b 9x4 0x6) - Sixer! Swann's fine figures take a hit as Watson advances and produces a meaty maximum over long-on. He follows that by cutting a single in debutant Simon Kerrigan's first over to reach a fine half-century.
12:27pm - Speaking of good rhythm, Watson is really clicking into gear now. He collects two more fours off Woakes via a powerful pull and straight drive. Can he kick on to a big 'un? He will hope so, even if history suggests this is his 'danger time'.
12:24pm - Swann is into a good rhythm, conceding just two runs in his first five overs.
— Investec Cricket (@InvestecCricket) August 21, 2013
12:11pm - As uncomfortable as Watson appears when it's straight, he has looked a million dollars outside off stump. Woakes is the man punished as the number three - for this game at least - crunches a cover drive and then guides through third man. A fine over for the tourists is completed as he then clips through midwicket to take his boundary count to seven.
11:56am - And now a first look at Chris Woakes in Test cricket. He starts with a solid over that ends badly as a long-hop is pulled for four by Watson.
11:53am - If the early signs are anything to go by, it appears this pitch will, indeed, prove a bunsen burner. Graeme Swann is thrown the ball and immediately gets a couple to rip. Exciting stuff.
Gutted not to be playing again today. But, good luck to Woakesy and Kegs. Great occasion to test Debut. Off to Derby I go to play for Middx!
— Steven Finn (@finnysteve) August 21, 2013
11:48am - The batsmen are on the drive again, Rogers punching straight and Watson offering more of a flourish outside off stump; both raced to the boundary.
11:42am - Huge, huge appeal from England, who are unsurprisingly targeting Watson's pads. Anderson gets it right but umpire Aleem Dar's decision to deliver a not-out verdict - and the hosts' not to use a review - are vindicated with the ball only just clipping leg. That drama followed the calm of Watson nonchalantly clipping a boundary through fine-leg earlier in the over.
11:31am - A good contest is brewing now with England's bowlers causing problems amid Rogers and Shane Watson each finding the fence with drives.
11:18am - WICKET! Warner c Prior b Anderson 6; Australia 11/1 - James Anderson gets the breakthrough! Warner is lured into a drive and undone by some late movement that induces a feather behind.
11:16am - Broad continues to prove England's most threatening bowler, nipping one back to David Warner - who inside-edges narrowly past the stumps for four.
11:05am - There's not too much bounce in the early stages, illustrated as Chris Rogers edges Stuart Broad just short of first slip. However, England will be buoyed by some early signs of swing.
— England Cricket (@ECB_cricket) August 21, 2013
10:36am - Here are the teams:
England: Alastair Cook (captain), Joe Root, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Chris Woakes, Matt Prior (wicketkeeper), Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Simon Kerrigan, James Anderson.
Australia: Chris Rogers, David Warner, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke (captain), Steven Smith, Brad Haddin (wicketkeeper), James Faulkner, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Ryan Harris, Nathan Lyon
10:30am - AUSTRALIA WIN TOSS & BAT - Michael Clarke has called correctly at the toss, which could be crucial given England will have hoped to make Australia bat last having chosen two spinners. Kerrigan has replaced the injured Tim Bresnan, with Woakes coming in for Jonny Bairstow; the tourists also have a debutant in the form of all-rounder James Faulkner.
10:18am - Those selections have certainly created a buzz in the press box. Will England field a five-man attack, or stick to the tried-and-tested four? All will be revealed when the toss takes place in just under 15 minutes.
10:06am - Some early news from the ground: it appears Simon Kerrigan and Chris Woakes will be given debuts having received their caps from Sir Ian Botham. England, of course, already have an unassailable 3-0 lead in the rubber.
10am - Hello and welcome to ecb.co.uk's live coverage of the fifth and final Investec Ashes Test between England and Australia at the Kia Oval.