Stuart Broad produced a bowling performance to rival that of Andrew Flintoff at Lord's, and Graeme Swann chimed in with four vital wickets on a dry and dusty track, as Australia felt their grip on the Ashes being prised away, finger by finger, on a sensational second day at The Oval. Responding to England's first-innings 332, the Aussies collapsed from a confident but never comfortable 61 for 0 at lunch to 160 all out shortly after tea, conceding a first-innings deficit of 172 in the process, as well as every ounce of the momentum they had established during their fourth-Test triumph at Headingley.
Australia did recover from that nadir to claw back some lost initiative, claiming three key wickets in the closing overs of the day as the frailties of England's dodgy batting card were exposed once again. Nevertheless, with Andrew Strauss remaining unperturbed on 32, and England's lead extended to an already imposing 230, the majority of the demons remain with the side facing the prospect of batting last on a dustbowl that has more in common with Kanpur than Kennington. In particular, the manner of Alastair Cook's dismissal - caught at slip as Australia's part-timer, Marcus North, ripped an offspinner across his bows - was ample proof of the traumas that lie ahead.
It was a stunning and memorable day's play dredged from the depths of Australia's worst nightmares, and their desperate afternoon session - in which they lost eight wickets for 72 in 24.4 incredible overs - is shaping up to be the decisive passage of play of the summer. Each of those eight breakthroughs was greeted with riotous acclaim by an absorbed and pumped-up crowd, as England's bowlers surfed a wave of emotion to exploit once again the peculiar frailties of an Aussie batting order that, for all its myriad successes this summer, has now failed calamitously in three of their five first innings in the series.
The star of England's show was Broad, who was thrown the ball for the second full over after a 50-minute rain delay, and responded with a full and straight 12-over spell that perfectly exploited a pitch showing increasing signs of uneven bounce. He claimed the first four wickets to fall for eight runs in the space of 21 deliveries, and then - after Swann had extracted the obdurate pairing of North and Simon Katich - wrapped up his second five-wicket haul in consecutive innings by yorking Brad Haddin for 1.
Fifteen wickets in all fell in the day, including (way back in the mists of time) that of James Anderson, whose first Test duck after six years and 54 innings might have been a portent of the chaos to come. Though Australia somehow reached lunch unscathed after 20.2 overs of hard graft, Shane Watson and Katich had been forced to scrap for every one of the 61 runs in their opening stand. Watson in particular tempted fate with three consecutive lbw appeals in the space of seven deliveries, but after the resumption, he fell to the very first delivery he received from Broad, nailed plumb lbw for 34 to prise open the floodgates.
Ricky Ponting was the next man in, and though he emerged to loud acclaim - the boos of Edgbaston a distant memory - his personal jitters were transparently plain to see. Sensing that the wicket was already a minefield, he got off the mark with an under-edged cut for four off Broad, and then survived a frenzied lbw appeal in the next over as he shouldered arms to Flintoff. But before he could settle, Broad cramped him on the back foot, and he inside-edged a loose drive onto his middle stump for 8.
Three Broad deliveries later, and Mike Hussey's traumatic series had taken another turn for the worse, as he thrust out his front pad and was sent on his way lbw for a duck - the decision looked tight on the replay, but stone-dead to the naked eye. And when Michael Clarke, Australia's star of the summer, drove fiercely into the covers in a bid to impose some authority, he picked out the debutant Jonathan Trott, who swooped superbly to cling onto a stinging low catch.
From 73 for 0, Australia had drifted listlessly to 93 for 4, with only the obdurate Katich providing any sort of sheet-anchor. He opened the face of his bat to steer Broad through the gully to move to 49, but then at the other end, Swann got into the act - in a somewhat fortuitous fashion - as North thrust his bat and pad forward to a non-spinning delivery on middle stump, and was adjudged lbw for 8 despite evidence that the bat had won the race.
North grinned wryly as he departed the crease, but there was little he or Australia could do to halt England's momentum, and in his next over, Swann claimed the vital wicket of Katich, who once again played for non-existent turn on a pitch creating demons in the mind, and popped a facile chance off his bat and pad-flap to Cook at short leg for exactly 50. Nine balls later, and Broad was back on centre stage. Haddin came down late on a stump-splattering yorker, and Australia's last recognised batsman had joined the procession.
Mitchell Johnson did what he could to jump-start a flatlining innings, smacking Swann for two lusty fours in a single over, but with tea looming he became the eighth casualty of the session, stunningly snaffled by Matt Prior behind the stumps, who read the big turn off the pitch, and moved sharply to his left to cling onto an edged drive.
Australia limped to tea on 133 for 8, and though Stuart Clark was hugely unfortunate to be adjudged caught at short leg for 6 when his bat was nowhere near the ball, Peter Siddle thrashed a skittish 26 not out as he and Ben Hilfenhaus hung around long enough to haul their side past the 150 mark. But Flintoff claimed his share of the limelight by yorking Hilfenhaus for 6, to complete an incredible and series-transforming two-and-a-half hours of cricket.
Still the procession of wickets was not over, however. With a session and three days in which to cement their advantage, England felt no need to rush their reply, but with the score on 27, Cook's unconvincing series came to an end as North nailed him for 9, before Ian Bell was somewhat unluckily extracted for 4, as he got on top of a short ball from his nemesis Johnson, only for Katich at short leg to hold onto a remarkable reflex catch inches from the turf. One over later, and Katich was back in the action when Johnson found Paul Collingwood's splice with an effort ball, but Trott provided convincing and confident support for his captain, Strauss, to enable England to finish on a high.