England captain Joe Root came into the match searching for consistency after three ducks in his five previous innings but needed outrageous luck to survive. @Twitter/England Cricket

Joe Root rode his luck to reach his 50 after being dropped three times by fumbling Australia on the opening day of the fifth Ashes Test at the Oval on Thursday.

World Cup winners England, desperate to level the series at 2-2, reached 169-3 at tea after losing the toss, as early cloud cover gave way to sunny skies in London.

Root was unbeaten on 57 and Jonny Bairstow was 22 not out as the home side seek to deny Tim Paine’s Australia a first series win in England since 2001.

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England captain Root came into the match searching for consistency after three ducks in his five previous innings but needed outrageous luck to survive.

He had an astonishing let-off when, on 24, he top-edged a pull off Pat Cummins to deep fine leg, only for the recalled Peter Siddle to drop a straightforward catch, much to the delight of the nearby crowd.

In Cummins’ next over Root again had a huge escape when wicketkeeper Paine failed to cling on to a one-handed chance in front of David Warner at first slip.

Shortly after lunch the skipper had yet another reprieve when a diving Steve Smith failed to hold on to a sharp chance at second slip off the bowling of Siddle.

SCORECARD

Root drove Josh Hazlewood square of the wicket to bring up 7,000 Test runs in his 158th innings — only three England players have reached the mark more quickly.

But the home side were unable to make the most of their good fortune, losing Rory Burns and Ben Stokes tamely to stumble to 130-3.

First to go

Opener Burns was caught at midwicket for 47 when he top-edged a pull off the bowling of Hazlewood while Stokes miscued a pull off the recalled Mitchell Marsh and was caught at point for 20. Root, making the most of his fortune, reached his fifty off 105 balls with just three fours.

Earlier, opener Joe Denly was the first to go, caught in the slips by Smith for 14. Visiting captain Paine asked the home side to bat, hoping his bowlers could take advantage of early overcast conditions in south London but will rue his team’s missed chances.

Australia won at Old Trafford last week to take a 2-1 lead in the five-match series, meaning they will retain the Ashes urn regardless of the result at the Oval.

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But Paine said his side were “very hungry” to complete the job and win their first Test series in England for 18 years.

To stand any chance of levelling the series, England will have to find a way to prise out Smith, who has scored 671 runs in just five innings at an astonishing average of more than 134.

All-rounder Marsh and seamer Siddle were brought in for the tourists, with batsman Travis Head and paceman Mitchell Starc missing out.

For England, Stokes is playing as a specialist batsman due to a shoulder injury. All-rounders Sam Curran and Chris Woakes replaced Jason Roy and Craig Overton.