This was the perfect example of the contrasting Test styles that have earned Australia the Ashes but not yet this compelling, rollercoaster ride of a series.
England’s hares set off in a hurry, carrying on where they left off at Old Trafford by racing along to 283 all out in just 54.4 overs, with Harry Brook illuminating the Oval.
But this first day of the final Test belonged to the tortoises of Australia who had moved steadily but solidly to 61 for the loss of just David Warner by the close.
It seemed all the momentum was with England before two days of Manchester rain put paid to their chances of levelling the series with a fourth Test victory and making this the mother and father of all Ashes deciders.
But they will need a much better day on Friday if they are going to turn this into a hollow triumph for Australia by gaining the second victory they really do deserve for all the swashbuckling cricket they have brought to this Ashes.
Australia will feel the better of the two sides following the first day of the final Ashes Test
Harry Brook illuminated the Oval with 85 and had an impressive partnership with Moeen Ali
Mitchell Starc celebrates taking the wicket of Brook during day one of the fifth and final Test
Most importantly, England need the real Jimmy Anderson to stand up after the most worrying signs yet that the man described before this fifth Test by Ben Stokes as the greatest fast bowler of all time really is in decline as he approaches his 41st birthday.
Anderson was innocuous and uncharacteristically inaccurate in seven wicketless overs in two spells as his fellow veterans in Warner and Usman Khawaja launched Australia’s reply in a far more traditional way than England’s Bazballers.
It was only when Chris Woakes was introduced that England finally made their breakthrough, Warner being well caught by Zak Crawley in what could well be his final Test.
They will need to quickly add to that wicket on Friday if they are to stop Australia moving slowly towards their first Ashes series win in England since 2001.
The England innings was what has become their usual mix of fabulous entertainment and, at least by conventional standards, the giving away of too many soft wickets.
Certainly they should have scored more than they did when they stood at 184 for three after being put into bat even though there was plenty of swing and seam for Australia.
England will point to a run-rate again in excess of five an over – it was above seven at one point – and the five sixes struck by their batsmen as evidence of a job well done.
But Australia would have been happy to dismiss England by 4.30pm on the first day when Pat Cummins finally won a toss at the fifth attempt, particularly as they showed signs of weariness towards the end of this action-packed series by dropping five chances.
England were bowled out for 283 but could only take one wicket from Australia after the visitors took to the bat
Jimmy Anderson (left) proved uncharacteristically inaccurate in seven wicketless overs
England only made their breakthrough after the introduction of Chris Woakes as it was his bowl which led to David Warner being caught by Zak Crawley
It seemed sure the force was still with England after their domination at Old Trafford when Ben Duckett and Crawley moved busily but sensibly to 62 without loss, both benefiting from sloppy fielding in being dropped by Warner and Steve Smith.
But once Duckett got the faintest of legside touches to Mitchell Marsh and departed after a review, Australia quickly added Crawley and Joe Root, playing on to Cummins, in a burst of three wickets for 11 in 22 balls.
Brook gave every indication he would quickly become the fourth wicket when he started frenetically and was badly dropped by Alex Carey on five as well as twice driving loosely through the slips.
But he settled by classily driving Marsh through the covers for four and then pulling him for six in successive balls before accelerating towards his 11th score of 50 plus in his 12th Test by smashing Mitchell Starc for four, four, six.
When Brook’s fourth wicket partnership with Moeen Ali reached 50 of its eventual 111 he had made 45 of them and the Yorkshireman produced the shot of the day when he on-drive Cummins down the ground for four.
Moeen had been an unlikely anchor man in making just 10 off the 28 balls he received before lunch but he changed gears after seemingly pulling a groin muscle running between the wickets and struggling for movement.
The ‘false No3’ could have retired hurt but decided he might as well get his runs while he could by hitting two sixes off Cummins and ramping the Australian captain over Carey’s head for a one bounce four before being bowled trying to slog Todd Murphy.
England could be without off-spinner Moeen Ali for the rest of what looks his last Test
Moeen was unable to take the field when England bowled and it could well be they will be without their off-spinner for the rest of what seems sure to be his last Test.
A beauty from Starc that both swung and seamed did for Stokes as he tried to play to leg while Jonny Bairstow was another to play on as England raced along to 250 at tea but for the loss of seven wickets.
Brook had become the seventh to fall when he was well caught by Smith 15 short of his first Ashes century after another slice of luck when he should have been run out on 50. But it had been another impressive contribution from a batsman destined for greatness.
For a while the combination of Chris Woakes and Mark Wood that took England over the line at Headingley seemed likely to lift them above 300, Woakes riding his luck by overturning an lbw decision awarded to Starc and then being dropped by Marsh and Murphy.
But Wood was another to fall trying to hit Australia’s novice off-spinner Murphy out of the ground and Stuart Broad sliced Starc to cover before Woakes, who had smashed the left-armer straight for six, became the last England wicket to fall and fourth to Starc.
Four years ago when Australia came to the Oval leading 2-1 England made 294 and were helped by four dropped catches before moving on to a series-levelling win.
It was a similar first day to Thursday only England’s runs now were made in 33 fewer overs. Times have changed and England really are changing Test cricket.
But they need to do better on Friday to stop Australia insisting that the tortoise will still always get to the finishing line first.