Feeble England collapse after Smith ton
England 107 for 8 (Moeen 8*, Wood 8*) trail Australia 481 (Smith 143, Warner 85, Voges 76, Starc 58, Finn 3-90) by 374 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
For Australia, The Oval has so far staged the Alternative Ashes. If Australia prosper here, it will not be just a consolation victory, it will be the Ashes as they imagined at the airport check-in that might unfold: Steven Smith striking a Test hundred to belie his air of innocence, Michael Clarke directing affairs with an air of contentment and Peter Siddle producing threatening seam-bowling spells fuelled only, cricket folklore will have it, by a steady diet of bananas.
Instead, as Australia know only too painfully, it has not turned out like that. England, they will grouse, have rigged the pitches. After all, how can you trust a nation that just across town at the Barbican toyed with having Benedict Cumberbatch speak Hamlet's soliloquy at the beginning of the play? Something is rotten in the state of England, they will say and, if it had not been, the Ashes would have been theirs. Friday at The Oval proved it.
There has not been anything approaching a close match in this unpredictable series and, with England still 175 runs short of avoiding the follow-on with only two wickets remaining, there is unlikely to be one here. Neither side has been able to fight back when under pressure. Some will blame one-day cricket. Non-stop schedules might also have a bit to do with it. It has been a series of exciting cricket and tired minds.
Everything witnessed at The Oval - indeed, in London once Australia's victory at Lord's is taken into account - has made England's imaginings that they might force a 4-1 Ashes win impossible to credit. Faced by a daunting Australia total of 481, England's assembling of 107 for 8 was feeble in the extreme, the captain Alastair Cook still left with one half-century in the series, Jos Buttler destroyed by a routine offspinner and Adam Lyth, Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes all surrendering to disorganised hooks and pulls.
Lyth's Ashes series sees him 105 for 8. He has looked overawed at this level. His maladroit pull to mid-on from Siddle's second ball was one of his worst dismissals of the series. His Test chance might have come and gone.
This is not a quick pitch, quite the opposite, but it has dried fast, the Australians have enjoyed the sun on their back and it will be warmer still on Saturday, approaching a stultifying 30C. Storms, though, are threatening later in the Test - if there still is a Test. There probably won't be.
Australia, in hindsight, will rue selection decisions during the series. Siddle, so routinely overlooked that he feared he might never play another Test, gave them control; Mitchell Marsh, illogically left out at Trent Bridge as Australia relied on only four bowlers, took 3 for 18 and would have taken four had he not overstepped when having Mark Wood caught at the wicket shortly before the close. There is a no-ball epidemic in Test cricket and umpiring attitudes have caused it.
Smith, an Australia captain-in-waiting, had prepared for his elevation to the job in satisfying fashion as his 11th Test match hundred helped Australia to a first-innings total of 481. It felt like a position of authority even before Smith and his eighth-wicket partner Mitchell Starc embarked upon a stand of 91 in 16 overs, Starc's clean-hitting half-century coming with perfunctory shrugs at the ease of it all. When Smith dragged on a wide one from Steven Finn, ending a stay of 143 from 226 balls, England, it turned out, were broken, as doomed as Hamlet in the face of his sea of troubles.
Series over? Can't win the match? Faced by such truths, England collapsed. From 60 for 2, they lost six wickets for 32 in 11 overs; good bowling combated by witless batting. That after much talk before play of: "Bowled well first day, sunny day for batting, happy with how things have gone."
Cook, the one England wicket to fall before tea, will point to the sharp turn immediately found by Nathan Lyon, an offspinner of gathering reputation, pitching leg and hitting off. Lyth followed, no ryhtym to his batting, a shadow of the batsman Yorkshire know.
It was Ian Bell's departure, off bail removed as Siddle seamed one away, that first communicated to England the challenge they faced. It was the loss of Joe Root, freshly installed as the No. 1 batsman in the world, the player who has had the happy knack of disguising their deficiencies, that probably caused them to lose heart: 6 in 39 balls, most un-Root-like these days, ended with Australia's successful review when Snicko revealed a faint edge.
Bairstow and Stokes opted for attack and both fell to cross-batted aggression against short balls; in between, Buttler was unhinged by both dip and turn as Lyon crashed one through the gate. Moeen Ali survived but was struck on the helmet by Johnson. Broad's duck, a third for Marsh, added to the melee, unsurprisingly so because he had only bowled five laborious overs in the day and looked like a man whose Ashes work was as good as done. He blows hot and cold but considering his workload he can be forgiven for that.
How quaint seemed England's ambitions for the second new ball, only two balls away when Australia resumed at 287 for 3. They took four wickets in the morning, but two fell to Moeen in the last over of the session, Peter Nevill to a sharp leg-side catch by Buttler, and there was to be no kick-on after lunch as Moeen and Stokes were struck around by Starc and fleeting thoughts of dragging themselves back into the Test floated into the London skyline.
Smith's 11th Test hundred came 20 minutes before lunch when he hurried through for a single to mid-on off Moeen. It was a far cry from the confident manner in which he reached his first Test hundred on this ground two years before - a six over long-off against, would you believe it, Jonathan Trott.
Strikingly, all 11 of Smith's hundreds have come in the first innings, his average surpassing 70, twice as high as in the second innings. He has scored them home and abroad and with this century, more so than on his debut hundred, he will feel he has begun to address the challenge of English conditions.
Voges, as ever, looked confident through the leg side, but Stokes trapped him lbw for 76 with a decent inswinger. It might have been two wickets in two balls, as Smith, on 92, flayed at a short, wide one from Finn, only for the bowler to find that his feet had been as inaccurate as the delivery, landing the wrong side of the line by about six inches.
Many do these days, the umpires entirely oblivious until a wicket falls. Umpiring standards have been high in this series - justification enough, the ICC will say, to concentrate on the business end, but it has gone far enough. Draw the line - preferably where it is drawn already.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps