In his first appearance of the series, Mitchell Marsh put in a sublime performance with the ball, taking four wickets as England once again struggled with the bat.
Australia captain Tim Paine won the toss and elected to field first on Thursday, 12 September, making two changes to the side that had retained the urn at Old Trafford. All-rounder Marsh came into the side for the first time this series as Travis Head dropped out and Peter Siddle returned in place of Mitchell Starc.
England also made two changes, Sam Curran replacing Surrey team-mate Jason Roy and Chris Woakes returning at Craig Overton's expense.
Rory Burns and Joe Denly opened the batting for England and added 27 – remarkably the highest opening stand by either side this series – before Denly was juggled and eventually caught at second slip by Steve Smith off the bowling of Pat Cummins.
The dismissal of Denly bought England captain Joe Root to the crease and the despite not being in his most fluent form he battled through the interval, albeit with some luck: he was dropped three times in all. The first profligate fielder was Peter Siddle, who shelled a straightforward chance at fine leg as Root looked to pull Cummins. Root's second life came shortly after as Paine, diving across David Warner at first slip, spilled a chance, and Australia's struggles continued after the break as Siddle saw Root dropped by a diving Smith, positioned at a wide second slip.
While Root struggled, he did bring up 7,000 Test runs. It's a landmark only Wally Hammond, Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen have reached quicker for England, and that no player has got there quicker in terms of time is a marker of his enduring class.
Meanwhile, Burns went quietly about his business, much as he has done throughout this Test series. He went to 46 with a lovely shot through the covers but was dismissed a run later as he tried to pull Josh Hazlewood, mistimed badly, and sent it straight to Marsh at short mid-wicket.
A fine achievement from the England captain 👏 pic.twitter.com/cBe6ftB54D— ICC (@ICC) September 12, 2019
Ben Stokes could only make 20 before he fell in similar fashion, misjudging a pull shot, only for it to end up in Nathan Lyon’s hands at point.
Jonny Bairstow joined Root as the pair looked to rebuild the England innings, but with the partnership worth 40, Root was bowled by a beauty from Cummins that nipped away to hit off stump. Bairstow followed Root to the pavilion six runs later as Marsh returned to the attack and trapped the England wicket-keeper lbw.
Sam Curran came in and hooked his third ball for six. He then received a major let off; having been trapped lbw by Cummins, replays showed the bowler had overstepped.
It's all happening at The Oval!— ICC (@ICC) September 12, 2019
Australia have taken two wickets in four overs and it could have been a third had Pat Cummins not overstepped!
Sam Curran the lucky batsman getting the reprieve 😱
Follow #ENGvAUS 👇 https://t.co/Op8d6I1Gph pic.twitter.com/EoHACCGKYB
But Curran couldn't make Australia pay as he looked to drive Marsh to the boundary and only succeeded in edging to Smith at second slip. Woakes and Jofra Archer couldn't offer much support to Jos Buttler but Jack Leach, who has earned cult status for his fight with bat in hand this series, once again played the perfect foil.
Leach was determined in defence while Buttler cut loose, hitting Hazlewood for back-to-back maximums straight back over his head, soon reaching his first Test half-century of the summer.
The pair saw England to stumps with the score 271/8, having added 45 for the ninth wicket, and given England a foothold in a game that had been slipping away from them.
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