Though like the contests at Nottingham, Leeds, and Manchester, the Test match at the Oval - the fifth and last of the series - ended in a draw, it had one highly satisfactory result. So amazingly good was the batting on the opening day, that English cricketers were once more placed on good terms with themselves, the depression caused by the severe defeat at Lord's in June, being to a very large extent removed. Only once before in a Test match in this country, has a more remarkable display of batting been given on the first day. When stumps were drawn England's score stood at 435 for four wickets, these figures being only inferior to the 363 for two wickets obtained at the Oval by the Australians in 1884. The two performances, indeed, admitted of an even closer comparison than the totals would suggest. In 1884 the Australians played the strict game all the afternoon and gave nothing away, whereas, the Englishmen, last August in order to give themselves a chance of actually winning the game, began to force the pace soon after the score had reached 300 with only one wicket down. MacLaren asked a good deal of his side in instructing them to play false cricket on an occasion when success meant so much in the way of individual glory, but that he took the right course will scarcely be disputed.
If by any chance England could have won the game, a full revenge for the defeat at Lord's would have been obtained, and the honours of the season equally divided. The well-meant effort failed, the wicket at the Oval being too good to admit of the Australians being got rid of twice in the time available, but the attempt to win was certainly worth making. MacLaren showed that he cared nothing for his own chances of distinction as distinct from the well-being of the side, for in hitting up his 49 he lifted the ball in a style quite foreign to his ordinary methods. It was a happy thought on MacLaren's part when he won the toss to begin the innings with Jackson and Hayward - the two batsmen who had played the best cricket for England in the previous matches - but the result must have far exceeded his wildest expectations. Such a wonderful start was made that 185 runs were scored for the first wicket this number beating by fifteen, the fine stand by Mr. W. G. Grace and the late William Scotton, for England on the same ground in 1886. Out of the 185 runs Jackson, who was the first to leave scored 118, his innings lasting two hours and fifty minutes. In many respects he played splendid cricket, his off-driving being especially fine, but he was a good deal at fault when facing McLeod, making several bad strokes off that bowler and giving a palpable chance to Trumble at slip when his score stood at 70. A second chance that he offered to Gregory at cover point - also from McLeod's bowling - did not affect the game as he was out before he had obtained another run. On the original batting order Townsend was to go in first wicket down, but by a good piece of generalship - the situation demanded brilliancy and not steady cricket - MacLaren changed his plans and sent Ranjitsinhji in to assist Hayward. Some splendid batting followed and when the innings had been in progress something over four hours 300 went up with only one man out.
This was perhaps the happiest moment experienced by England in any of the Test matches last season, the only incident to compare with it being J. T. Hearne's hat trick at Leeds. Hayward and Ranjitsinhji put on 131 runs in less than an hour and a half. The latter batsman was caught in the slips at 316, and just afterwards having beaten the score obtained at Lord's by Clement Hill and Trumper Hayward at 318 hit a ball into cover-point's hands. From an English point of view Hayward's play in the Test matches was the feature of the whole season. At the Oval for the first time in the five games he had the opportunity of starting his innings when the side were not in difficulties, and nothing could well have been finer than his batting. Risking nothing at the start of the match he took nearly two hours and a half to get his first fifty, doubled his score in an hour and twenty-five minutes, and wound up by making his last 37 runs in forty minutes. Above everything else his innings was remarkable for the perfection of his placing in front of short leg. Watching the game with the utmost closeness, he only made three strokes that could be described as dangerous. After Hayward was out, Fry and MacLaren put on 110 runs in sixty-five minutes, MacLaren being caught in the long-field at 428.
The Englishmen having on the first day made themselves safe against all possibility of defeat, the remainder of the match resolved itself into an effort on their part to snatch a victory in the time that remained and a struggle by the Australians to secure a draw. It cannot be said that there ever looked to be much hope of victory. England's innings ended at twenty minutes to one on Tuesday for 576, this being the largest total ever obtained in a Test in this country. The Australians naturally set themselves to play a steady game, and at the drawing of stumps their score stood at 220 for five wickets, Darling after playing most skilful cricket for two hours and forty minutes, being out in the last over of the day. On the Wednesday the Australians played up in splendid style and saved the match, with so much to spare that in the end they were 30 ahead with five wickets to fall in their second innings. Gregory, in carrying his overnight score of 37 to 117, played finer cricket than on any other occasion during the tour. McLeod in both innings showed wonderful defence, and Noble at the end of the afternoon gave one of his best displays. Nothing, however, on this last day was quite so fine as Lockwood's bowling in the morning. By taking in an innings of 352, seven wickets for 71 runs, he showed what his absence had meant to England in the four previous matches. A collection made on Hayward's behalf on the first day resulted in a sum of £131 3s. 6d. being subscribed.