Andrew Strauss declared his seventh Test hundred the best of the lot but did not enjoy a minute of it as England began the Ashes decider tentatively.

Strauss struck 129 before becoming the last of Shane Warne's five victims at The Oval, where England have the opportunity to close out a first series win over Australia for 18 years by avoiding defeat.

The 28-year-old's stand of 143 alongside Andrew Flintoff, who struck 72, was crucial in addressing a perilous position of 131 for four, after the home side won the toss.

His second century of the series was also something of a personal triumph over Warne, who dubbed him the 'new Daryll Cullinan' prior to the campaign, suggesting he would enjoy a similar success rate to that he did against the South African batsmen over the years.

"In terms of importance it is the best I have ever played," said Strauss of his six-hour contribution. "Today was a massive day in the context of the series and it was vital that one of us went on and got a hundred.

"I didn't really enjoy it at any stage because of the game situation; there was not a time at which we didn't feel under pressure.

"The high level of expectation has been very hard to get away from over the last week or so, that is what has made this game so exciting to be part of."

When he provided a batpad chance to silly point late on, it was the fifth time Warne has ousted Strauss in nine innings, a statistic which adds some credence to the taunts.

"You only get to judge what the high and low percentage shots against him are by playing him a few times, getting in his mind a little bit to work out how he is trying to get you out," said Strauss.

"The comments are all part of his kidology, I suppose. He tries to put pressure on you both with the way he bowls and the stuff he comes out with."

Warne reflected: "He had a bit of luck but you have to give him credit, it doesn't matter how you look when you get there. A hundred is a hundred."

Warne's first intervention came in his third over, from the Vauxhall end, when Marcus Trescothick edged low to first slip.

It sparked a spell of four for 16, just as England threatened to exert the control they have on the first day of the previous three Tests.

"We were staring down the barrel," admitted Warne, who sent down 34 overs for a return of five for 118. "It has been a trademark of the series that England get ahead and we fight back.

"The momentum out there was swinging all the time throughout the day but we have just got our noses in front.

"Hopefully some of the guys with the new rock can get those wickets pretty quickly in the morning so I can get my feet up because I am tired."

Warne, 36 next week, is featuring in his final Ashes series on English soil and dropped a thin hint he may consider his future should Australia retain their grasp on the urn.

"I don't think anyone likes to go out on a losing series," Warne said. "I haven't played in one against England before and hopefully if we play well here this will be the same and we can retain the Ashes.

"But that's a long way ahead and I don't think anyone wants to make rash decisions about anything.

"It has been a good day for us. The last hour has just given us the edge and it was another fascinating day's cricket. We're just ahead I think but only just.

"Unfortunately we keep bowling first but the boys fought really well today. There was some good bowling at the other end and that was generally the best we've bowled, and we held all our catches.

"The only time we got

defensive was when Freddie (Flintoff) was smacking them around. As it turned out it was a pretty good day for us.

"It's an important day tomorrow. Matthew Hoggard can hang around and ( Geraint) Jones can be dangerous so we need to try and knock them over - we can't allow them to wag.

"Hopefully then the boys can bat as long as they can, but England have been bowling fantastically. Strauss played an intelligent innings today and Freddie hit some awesome shots."

English fans will hope Warne does finally succumb to defeat and it could yet come in similar nail-biting style to the ones at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge.