Watson lifts Australia with elusive ton
Australia 307 for 4 (Smith 66*, Siddle 18*) v England
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
For Australia, the series is lost, the intensity is not what it was and expectations could not be much lower. Shane Watson's bountiful form has come far too late to challenge the outcome of the series, but there was no denying the gentle brutality of his strokeplay as he took the highest score of his Test career off a reshaped and none-too-convincing England attack in the final Test at The Oval.
Watson's move to No. 3 had not delighted all observers but, at the end of a series in which Australia's pick-and-mix batting order has left them 3-0 down, he produced the most domineering top-order batting of the summer. There were no devils in the situation or in a depressingly slow Oval pitch and Watson responded to an unpressurised situation by registering only his third hundred in 46 Tests in a manner which simultaneously stated his ability and questioned his record.
When he even reviewed successfully after being adjudged lbw to Chris Woakes on 166 eight overs from the close, it looked as if he was fated to survive into the second morning. Woakes thought he had achieved his first Test wicket when he defeated Watson's pull shot but the decision of umpire Kumar Dharmasena was reversed when replays showed the ball was too high.
But Stuart Broad, who had felled Watson with a well-directed short ball on 91 and bowled defiantly throughout, removed him three overs before the close. Watson's full-blooded pull at Broad was expertly intercepted by a diving Kevin Pietersen at deep backward square, moved there from long leg by his captain, Alastair Cook, a few minutes before.
Watson never quite discovered the same mastery after Broad struck him behind the ear, a sickening blow which brought him to his knees for a prolonged period and caused brief alarm - and left him munching pain-killing tablets - but he summoned the resolution that has not always been a feature of his Test career.
It was his pre-lunch assault that set the tone. England fielded two Ashes debutants in Woakes and Simon Kerrigan and Watson feasted upon their vulnerability, amassing 80 from 77 balls by lunch as between them as the new pair leaked 58 runs in seven overs.
If Woakes' contribution was just about adequate, Kerrigan, the Lancashire left-arm spinner called up after Monty Panesar became persona non grata, had a humbling experience. As his confidence deserted him and full tosses vied for attention with a liberal supply of long hops, the tacit invitation to Panesar to find the sort of late-season form to regain his place as England's back-up spinner could not have been clearer.
Kerrigan had been treated dismissively by Watson in the Lions match against Northamptonshire last week and, as he won his first Test cap in his 50th first-class match, nothing had changed. He conceded 28 in his first two overs with Watson helping himself to six boundaries. The first four ball, a low full toss, revealed his uncertainty and he repeatedly dropped short in his second over as Watson overawed him.
If the assault subsided, anxiety never left him. He returned for two distinctly nervy overs before tea, his faltering belief exaggerating an unanimated approach to the crease, and although he improved a little after the interval, his lack of conviction was such that every dot ball became a building brick in a desperate battle for survival. It was one of the most nervous England debuts for many years.
The series was already settled and as much as Cook had spoken of their desire to set new standards by winning an Ashes series 4-0, the sense of experimentation was apparent. The inclusion of Woakes and Kerrigan also markedly changed the balance of the side as England switched from a four-man attack to five and fielded two spinners in a home Test for the first time since the Ashes Test against Australia in Cardiff four years ago.
Such a balance was forced upon England by a slow, dry pitch, the sort of conditions in which England have repeatedly dominated in this sun-drenched summer, but as Watson dismissed the debutants from his presence, the five-man attack seemed by mid-afternoon to have been reduced to three as Cook retreated to his trusted trio of Broad, James Anderson and Graeme Swann.
Broad apart, only in the first hour did England possess much threat. There was a hint of swing for the new ball and even a semblance of turn for Swann, but Watson bestrode the morning. It was a powerful display of Test batting, but this was not high-quality, tension-ridden Ashes cricket.
Broad, at least, is finishing the series full of vigour, but after his 11 wickets in the previous Test, conditions were no longer as encouraging. That reality dawned in his first over when he found the edge of Rogers' bat but the ball died well short of Cook at first slip. At the fag-end of the day, though, his threat remained and he was inches away from bowling Steven Smith, whose lofted blows had been a feature of his unbeaten 66.
England, who dismissed David Warner in the fifth over of the day - a simple catch for the wicketkeeper, Matt Prior, as he fenced at Anderson - followed up with the wickets of Chris Rogers and Michael Clarke in the middle session. Rogers' laborious stay - 23 from 100 balls - ended when he nicked Swann to first slip, so ending a lengthy stalemate between the pair. Anderson accounted for Clarke, bringing one back to bowl him off the top of his pad to pass Bob Willis and go second in England's all-time list of Test wicket-takers.
Broad's combative post-lunch spell disturbed Australia's equilibrium. Watson was felled and, not for the first time in this series, Clarke also seemed to have problems picking up Broad's short ball. If Anderson dismissed Clarke, Broad deserved an assist.
It was a careful cover drive off Anderson which brought Watson his first hundred since he took a century off India in Mohali in 2010, and the third Australian hundred of the series to follow those made by Clarke and Rogers. He was dropped on 104 off Anderson at first slip, an inviting chance, knee high to Cook's right, off the shoulder of the bat.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo