England seamer Mark Wood is banking on the new ball keeping hopes of a record Ashes scoreline alive at the Kia Oval.
Having secured the urn with a game to spare in Nottingham, England are desperate for the win that would make it 4-1 – a margin they have never before managed on home soil.
But Australia made that scenario less likely by showing the kind of concentration and judgement that was conspicuously lacking in their three-day defeats at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, posting 287-3, with David Warner (85) and Steve Smith (78no) making the major contributions.
The second new Dukes is available after just two deliveries of the second day and Wood left little doubt that it represented the hosts’ best chance of reclaiming the initiative.
“With the overheads this morning, it was the right decision to bowl,” said the Durham paceman.
“It was a tough day of Test cricket but I thought we bowled all right as a group.
“A couple of nicks didn’t carry, we just didn’t get the wickets, now we’ve got that second new ball round the corner.
“We have to try to take early wickets tomorrow to stay in this game and try to win it.
“If we could have got a couple more wickets in that last session I’d have said it was an even day. But you never know, if we get two or three early then we could grab that momentum back.”
Wood, making just his sixth Test appearance, rebuffed without hesitation suggestions that Alastair Cook’s side had eased off having already achieved their primary goal of regaining the Ashes.
“This is the Ashes and you’re representing your country. We’ve got that desire to win 4-1, which I think would be a huge moment for English cricket,” he said.
“If it was the other way round Australia wouldn’t let up, so we can’t take our foot off the gas.”
While it was another forgettable outing for retiring captain Michael Clarke – dismissed caught behind by Ben Stokes for 15 – Wood was pleased to be part of the guard of honour shown by England’s players, combined with a standing ovation by the capacity crowd.
“The respect shown for Michael Clarke was because of the phenomenal career he’s had and the great player he is. It was just the right thing to do, I think,” said Wood.
“I’m sure he appreciated it. I don’t know if it was planned but Cookie just said ‘line up and show respect’.
“You saw the crowd show their respect as well and he totally deserves it.”
Warner echoed those sentiments.
“I think that’s what he deserved, all the greats of the game deserve that credit,” said the Australia opener.
“He’s been a fantastic captain, a fantastic leader and a good team man for us, especially over the few years I’ve been part of his career.
“He thoroughly deserved that today and it was great respect from the English cricket team.”
Warner did not detect a lack of desire from the home attack as they toiled for infrequent rewards, but did notice a difference from their ruthless displays in the past two matches.
“Credit to the English bowlers, they’ve bowled fantastically well through this series, but today it just looked like they probably didn’t hit their right lengths,” he said.
“For a lot of the time out there I felt like they bowled just a fraction too short. In every other game they’ve bowled fantastically, put it up there and allowed us to try and drive.
“We’ve been getting the odd one away and then the nicks are coming.”