England's Ian Bell gestures to the crowd as he faces Australia's Nathan Lyon during play on the third day of the fifth Ashes Test at The Oval in London. (AP Photo)
Ian Bell was left holding the fort for England yet again as they struggled for runs on the third day of the final Ashes Test against Australia at The Oval on Friday.
England, who at 3-0 up had already won the five-match series, were 247 for four at stumps, still 245 runs behind Australia's first innings 492 for nine declared but needing just 46 more runs to avoid the follow-on.
Bell, who came into this match having scored exactly 500 runs in the series with three hundreds, was 29 not out off 110 balls in nearly two-and-a-half hours at the crease.
Meanwhile Test debutant Chris Woakes, Bell's Warwickshire team-mate, was 15 not out following a final session played under gloomy skies despite the glare of the floodlights.
Several England batsmen got in but failed to press on, with Kevin Pietersen making an unusually restrained 50 in 133 balls.
England scored 215 runs in the day's 98.3 overs, the run-rate rarely rising above two an over, in a match where victory would mean they had won four Tests in a home Ashes for the first time.
But there was still something to be gained for England by denying their arch-rivals a consolation success -- Australia's last 'winless' Ashes was in 1977 -- ahead of the return series 'Down Under' starting in November.
"It's not easy out there, it's quite slow and I think we played some good cricket," opener Joe Root, who on Friday made 68 -- only his second fifty of the series following his Test-best 180 in England's crushing 347-run win in the second Ashes match at Lord's -- told BBC Radio's Test Match Special.
"You have to give credit to Australia, they bowled well and we had to work really hard for the runs we got," the 22-year-old Yorkshireman added.
England resumed Friday on 32 without loss after Shane Watson's Test-best 176 and Steven Smith's 138 not out -- his maiden hundred at this level -- had taken Australia to their imposing total.
Alastair Cook, the England captain, was 17 not out and Root 13 not out.
The openers made a solid start, with Root clipping Ryan Harris off his legs for four while left-hander Cook square-drove the fast bowler for a boundary.
But Cook's poor series with the bat continued when he followed a delivery angled across him from Harris and edged to wicketkeeper Brad Haddin for 25 to end a stand of 68 with Root -- their first fifty partnership as an opening duo.
It was another low score for Cook in a series where he has made 243 runs in nine innings at an average of 27 with a best of 62 -- a far cry from his 2010/11 Ashes tour of Australia where he compiled 766 at 127.66 with three hundreds.
Root's pull off Peter Siddle saw him to a 145-ball fifty with eight fours, but, after lunch, he made a tame exit on 68 when he fell into an obvious trap by top-edging a sweep off spinner Nathan Lyon straight to Shane Watson at short fine leg, with England now 118 for two.
There were ironic cheers from a capacity crowd when Pietersen drove leg-spinner Smith for four -- the first boundary in 11 overs.
But the first delivery with the new ball saw Jonathan Trott lbw for 40 to left-arm paceman Mitchell Starc.
England challenged but, with the Decision Review System upholding Pakistani umpire Aleem Dar's verdict, it was the end of Trott's 134-ball knock.
By contrast Bell, a Warwickshire team-mate of Trott, got off the mark fifth ball with a square-driven four off Starc.
Pietersen's bottom-edged boundary -- England's first in 14 overs -- off Test debutant James Faulkner saw him to a fifty on the ground where his stunning maiden century at this level secured an Ashes-clinching draw eight years ago.
However, Pietersen had failed to add to his total when he edged Starc to Watson, now at first slip, to leave England on 217 for four.
Woakes's medium-pace posed little threat in Australia's innings but the all-rounder's batting suggested greater promise as he got off the mark first ball with a cover-driven four off Starc.