- England v Australia, 3rd Test, Old Trafford, 5th day
England retain Ashes on rainy day
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
England will keep the Ashes for the next five months at least after Manchester's weather proved a far more impassable barrier to Australia's bowlers than the hosts' top order batting on a grey final day at Old Trafford. The retention of the urn arrived formally via the underwhelming circumstances of an announcement that play had been abandoned at 4.39pm local time, due to a solid belt of rain that could delay its arrival no further than three balls into the afternoon session.
By that time England had lurched to 37 for 3, Ian Bell stung on the thumb by a prancing delivery from Peter Siddle that rather summed up the danger posed by a committed and skilful Australian attack, who have grown increasingly confident in their ability to snip the top off their opponents' batting. Confounded by the rain in Manchester, they will look back ruefully on the failure of Australia's batsmen to provide them with anything to bowl to at Trent Bridge and Lord's, where England established their decisive advantage.
This is not to say that Old Trafford will be a source of entirely happy memories for Alastair Cook's men nor completely forlorn ones for Michael Clarke's. Australia have broken a streak of six consecutive Test match defeats, and in the final two Tests have the chance to press for parity in this series and a platform from which to regain superiority at home in the southern summer. England by comparison have appeared to lose steam, their bowlers decreasing in threat while the batsmen grow increasingly dependent on the middle and lower orders to bail them out.
A Test match at Durham in four days' time will provide plenty of questions for both sides, not least whether the admirable Ryan Harris will be able to back up without the benefit of the break he had between Lord's and Old Trafford. Harris and Siddle were the outstanding performers in the 20.3 overs of play that were possible, finding life in the air and off the pitch to dispose of Cook, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen before the showers set in.
It might have been even worse for England, had Clarke held onto the sort of slips chance he would usually claim when Joe Root snicked Siddle. Pietersen looked distraught to be given out, though a noise at precisely the moment the ball passed the bat backed up Tony Hill's call and that of the third umpire Kumar Dharmasena.
Rain overnight and this morning left many pessimistic about the chances of any resumption at all, with England needing only a draw. However the skies cleared enough for a concerted cleaning and drying effort from the ground staff, starting at around 10am, and following an inspection at 10.45 Hill and Marais Erasmus informed the captains Clarke and Cook of their plans to resume.
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Clarke immediately declared, and threw the ball to Harris when play began at 11.30. As he has done repeatedly when called on, Harris responded with a spell of heart and skill, picking up the two early wickets that his captain required. Cook was drawn across his crease by balls angled towards the slips and then pinned lbw by an inswinger. He referred even though the ball was curling in to hit middle stump, the loss of a review adding to the gravity of the blow.
Trott has looked out of sorts in this match, and Harris worked him over in similar fashion, moving outswingers away then arrowing the odd ball back in. Harris' first attempt at the plan resulted in an awfully close lbw shout declined by Hill. Australia's referral was lost as the ball was hitting less than half of leg stump, but in Harris' next over Trott again fell across his crease, this time glancing straight into Brad Haddin's gloves.
Pietersen announced his arrival with a prancing pull shot that signalled Harris' withdrawal. In Siddle's first over replacing him, Root was squared up by a ball angled in and seaming away, but Clarke surprised everyone in attendance by dropping the chance. Australian heads were not to be bowed for long however, as Siddle appeared to extract a fine edge from Pietersen as he prodded forward.
Hill's finger was raised, an upset Pietersen referred, and Dharmasena upheld the on-field call after a sound could be heard at the moment ball passed bat. Pietersen walked off muttering, and minutes later Australia followed him with a spring in their step. They returned with hope as the afternoon began, but within three balls were shuffling back to the pavilion, where a few hours later England had cause for celebration, acknowledging the commitment of a small, soggy crowd from the Old Trafford balcony.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here