There was no atmosphere at the Oval today.

England’s opening batsmen Andrew Strauss and Alistair Cook came out to polite applause, Jerusalem was played without any roar from the crowd, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood were allowed to bat like cadavers without abuse and the crowd mostly talked about the problems in the Tory party during the play.

Until Freddie Flintoff came out I thought the crowd had all died. On his arrival they stood and applauded their national hero gimp. He soon went out and the crowd was so quiet I could hear two mice talk about the fact England’s record is better off without him.

The best looking guy at The Oval on Day OneThe best looking guy at The Oval on Day One (Photo: Jarrod Kimber)

On the field the English team were just as lifeless. Getting to lunch at 1/108 on a pitch as flat as this should mean a massive first innings total. But the second session England decided to trudge to victory. Once Strauss was out, Bell and Collingwood tried to out scratch each other (they lost all the momentum Strauss had built) and with the English batting line up’s weakness outside off stump, Australia kept chipping away at them.

It could have been an ordinary day for Australia. Strauss looked five classes above his top order, the pitch was lifeless after 30 minutes, Australia bowled a freakish amount of no balls, the over rates were horrendous and Ben Hilfenhaus, Stuart Clark and Mitchell Johnson all struggled for consistency on the day.

Johnson had his moments. It seems he always has one spell that troubles England. The way he moved Flintoff and Matthew Prior around with short balls before claiming their wicket was top class fast bowling. On this pitch Prior and Flintoff could have made life very uncomfortable for Australia.

Slightly funny anti-Aussie posters adorn The OvalSlightly funny anti-Aussie posters adorn The Oval (Photo: Jarrod Kimber)

This was the day of Peter Siddle. His four wickets were worth a lot more than his cheap five-wicket haul at Headingley. This one was hard work on a pitch that just didn’t want to help out. He kept probing at them all day, and even before he took Graeme Swann on the last ball of the day, he was the reason Australia were winning the day.

And Australia did win the day. The ball didn’t swing or seam throughout the day. To get eight wickets with four seamers was a great effort, even if it was helped by the ordinary work of some English batsman.

The umpires still had their say. Ian Bell made his second ugly 50 of the series with help from the umpires who missed a glove behind. Then England got the rough end when Bell and Strauss fell on uncalled no balls. There were so many no balls it was inevitable that the umpires would miss some. Australia donated three overs to the English and this was one part of their shocking over rate.

The last session was a cracker. But the crowd had given up by then. The Barmy Army were amazingly silent. There was no chanting, no singing, and no Aussie bating. This middle-aged crowd just sat and watched their team slip and slide towards what appears at first glance a sub par total.

The pitch seems set up for a big Australian total. There is no team in the world that likes batting more when there is no lateral movement. Michael Clarke, Ricky Ponting, Simon Katich and Marcus North could be impossible to dismiss once they are set. And England’s bowlers have not showed the patience required for such a pitch.

The highlight of the day had to be Katich’s runout of Jonathan Trott at short leg. A reflex throw ended Trott’s innings after he came down the wicket to a Marcus North ball.

Even the middle aged Tories stopped their David Cameron discussions when this happened.

*Listen to Crikey Sports latest podcast where Leigh Josey and Jarrod Kimber discuss The Oval, Tories and Pimms and lemonade. And go to Crikey’s Ashes homepage for the latest coverage as the Ashes contest draws to an end.

Peter Fray

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