A feisty verbal altercation between Michael Clarke and Kevin Pietersen has provided brief respite from a stubborn England bid to kill off Australia's chances of a consolation win in the fifth Test at the Oval.
The Ashes already well and truly secured, Alastair Cook's side meandered along at barely two runs per over on Friday, intent of stonewalling the tourists' ambitions rather than pressing for their own historic 4-0 series win.
England are 4-247 in their first innings, adding only 215 runs in 98.3 overs, leaving them still trailing by 245 and needing 46 more to avoid the follow-on.
Two days remain and to glance at the score Australia are well placed. But England's obstinacy was not their only problem. The Met Office has some more bad news. Rain, which intervened to stop them in their tracks at Old Trafford three weeks ago, is forecast for most of Saturday in London.
The flow of wickets Clarke's team desired on an unresponsive and slow Oval pitch did not eventuate - the hosts lost only four all day - and the frustration at England's filibustering came to a head shortly before tea.
It took the form of a slanging match between Clarke and Pietersen, who are known not to have much time for each other despite once being teammates at Hampshire. As much a chest-beating contest as a war of words it began in the penultimate over before tea, when Ian Bell came to the crease following Mitchell Starc's removal of Jonathan Trott with the very first delivery with the new ball.
Pietersen, at the non-striker's end, and Clarke traded insults from opposite ends of the pitch, and umpire Aleem Dar repeatedly intervened to call for calm. They were still at it in the next over, bowled by Ryan Harris, and on the way off to the pavilion, Clarke's former deputy and slips colleague Shane Watson also joined in the banter.
After tea, Clarke then provocatively stood right next to Pietersen to set his field before chuckling with Watson in the cordon like lifelong pals.
Geoffrey Boycott, on the BBC radio commentary, heard the verbal sparring on the stump microphone and said it had begun when Clarke told Pietersen that "nobody likes you", with Pietersen responding: "You're the captain, and nobody likes you".
It was also reported on Friday that Watson had welcomed Bell to the middle with spray and told Pietersen he would be batting with a "child". Pietersen reportedly reminded the all-rounder, who had scored a first Test century in nearly three years on Wednesday, that Bell has three tons for the series, asking Watson how many he had in his career.
There has been no love lost between the teams in this series but Australian quick Peter Siddle said the latest stoush had been mild. "It was just asking them what they were up to," Siddle said. "If they were thinking of playing a few strokes or trying to push the runs along. It was pretty tame really.
"It's been a tough, long, hard tour and as everyone knows it's Test match cricket and it does get hard work out there when you're trying to get the breakthroughs and there is not a lot happening from the batters' side of things."
Asked about the tension between the sides England's top scorer Joe Root said: "It's Ashes cricket. You play your cricket hard on the field and hopefully we can have a beer together at the end of the series. I don't think any of it is malicious. Hopefully we will find out at the end of the series if we can all have a beer together."
It was Australia that had the last laugh over Pietersen, as bowling teams tend to do eventually, when his bat caught a low edge off Starc (2-60) that flew straight to Watson at first slip. On 50, the South African-born batsman hung around momentarily, suspecting it might have been a bump ball, but once he saw the replay had to trudge past the assembled Australian pack and off the ground.
England were more than content, though, to have escaped the day with only four casualties, no matter how slowly they scored. In their desperation for a breakthrough Australia have blown both their reviews.
Pietersen's exit inspired a short burst with debutant Chris Woakes (15 not out) driving Starc through cover for a boundary with his first ball faced. Woakes' confident start briefly distracted the boozier element of an Oval crowd from the slow day staple of beer snakes and security baiting.
But England, having lost a crucial toss on the first morning, elsewhere showed no real interest in trying for anything but a draw. Even Steve Smith, following up his first Test century on Thursday with some leg-spin support, picked up a few maidens as five in a row were bowled to Woakes and Bell just before the merciful arrival of stumps.
"We need to play the situation and fair credit to Australia they bowled pretty well all day really," Root said. "They made it very hard for us to score fluently. You've seen throughout the summer people like Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen have generally scored quite fluently - it's not always that easy. We played pretty well to get to where we have."
Bell, the leading scorer in the series with three centuries, is unbeaten on 29 but has faced 110 balls for his runs.
The pattern was similar in the top order. Root (68 from 184 balls), Cook (25 from 88) and Trott (40 from 134) hardly got out of first gear, and even Pietersen, who usually can't help but have the odd lash, held back his natural flair.
Australia had their chances to unseat him earlier, particularly during an excellent spell from Nathan Lyon before tea that deserved more than the single wicket it reaped when Root tried to sweep him and picked up a top edge that was caught by Watson at a short fine leg.
He edged Lyon just wide of Smith at short leg when on six and on 11 could have been run out by David Warner.
Earlier, Harris, with his 21st wicket of the series and third capture of Cook in the Ashes, drew level as the leading fast bowler of the campaign with James Anderson despite missing the first Test.
Watson, who had been expected to resume all-rounder's duties at the Oval, did not bowl all day.