England v Australia, 5th Investec Test, The Oval, 3rd day August 23, 2013

Count the drinks, not the runs

It was a day where patience was tested all round; the batsmen showed, the bowlers used and the crowd had to find it

"Smaaaassshh itttttt!" came the cry from the behind the long-off fence. The man's voice was breaking almost into a falsetto, the kind of panicked, manic noise you'd expect to hear from a prisoner on the rack over the river at the Tower of London. Chris Woakes didn't oblige. He tapped the next ball away defensively off the gentle legspin of Steven Smith. And the next. And the next. And the next.

The spectator by now had turned his attention to more important matters: calculating the contents of his plastic cup of beer, and presumably how many more he could consume in the final few overs of the day. This was a day of beer snakes, of the crowds entertaining themselves. A day of Bronx cheers for each scoring shot; there were only four of them in the last 10 overs before stumps.

It was a day on which patience was required, from the batsmen, and therefore from the bowlers, and therefore from the viewers. Not so much patience as was needed at the Gabba in 1958, when Trevor Bailey lived up to his 'barnacle' tag in an England innings that brought 1.24 runs per six balls; here England comparatively raced along at 2.12 an over the course of their innings so far.

Australia's bowlers tried to build pressure. Maidens accumulated, the fieldsmen kept things tight, but there was little in the pitch and chances were rare. That they winkled out four wickets was not a terrible result - except that the fourth day is expected to be largely washed out. It was not an unfamiliar situation for the Australian attack.

In Adelaide last November, South Africa scored at a rate that made Kevin Pietersen look like he was playing Twenty20 cricket by comparison. Chasing an unrealistic 430 for victory, the South Africans hunkered down like professionals, trickling along at 1.67 an over to salvage a draw. But there, the Australians were down a bowler, after James Pattinson broke down in the first innings.

Here, they not only had a full attack, they had one extra option due to the inclusion of James Faulkner, although as it turned out he bowled instead of Shane Watson, not as well as. But on a pitch as dead as the series, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, Mitchell Starc, Faulkner, Nathan Lyon and Smith could do only so much against an England batting order unwilling to play shots.

Of course it can be argued that England should have been more proactive, tried harder to force a 4-0 outcome. But they were playing the long game - in every sense. Their objective was clear: stop Australia gaining any sort of confidence from winning a dead rubber. Stop them from remembering how to win ahead of the return series.

In doing so, they have all but ensured a 3-0 series result, which would push England to second on the ICC Test rankings and drop Australia to fifth. That South Africa and England, the best two sides in the world, are prepared to grind like this is a lesson to Australia. Besides Chris Rogers, it is difficult to imagine anyone in Australia's batting line-up having the patience to bat a day out like this.

"We did bowl well, we did build a lot of pressure and we were consistent in our areas and I guess we made them play that way," Siddle said. "It's one of the better innings that we've bowled in this series. We knew we had to try and get the breakthroughs, push the game forward. It's been hard work out there. The pitch has been hard work and they have been very patient.

"We're the ones who have put ourselves in this position [at 3-0 down] in the first place so it is disappointing. We did start this game off well and put the pressure right on them. If they want to play that way they do. We've put ourselves in that position so we can't control it."

Nor can they control the weather. All the bowlers and fieldsmen can do on a day like this is be patient, build the pressure and grab whatever chances England deign to provide. All the spectators can do is entertain themselves and line up for their next drink. And the next. And the next…

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here