England denied by rain as Australia retain Ashes

Draw to retain Ashes feels ‘weird’ – Cummins
Fourth LV= Insurance Ashes Test, Emirates Old Trafford (day five of five):
Australia 317 (Labuschagne 51, Marsh 51; Woakes 5-62) & 214-5 (Labuschagne 111; Wood 3-27)
England 592 (Crawley 189, Bairstow 99*; Hazlewood 5-126)
Match drawn, Australia lead series 2-1 and retain the Ashes

England’s hopes of an Ashes comeback were heartbreakingly ended by rain that left the fourth Test as a draw and ensured Australia retain the urn.

On a hugely frustrating and disappointing fifth day at Old Trafford, persistent bad weather prevented a single ball from being bowled.

There was a brief gap that allowed a start to be scheduled for 13:00 BST, only for the rain to return.

It meant England did not get a chance to push for the final five wickets they needed to force a win. Australia remained on 214-5 in their second innings, 61 runs behind the home side.

At 2-1 up with only one match to play, holders Australia will at least hang on to the Ashes they have possessed since 2017-18 and will now look to complete a first series win in the UK in 22 years.

For an England team playing such a thrilling style of cricket under captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum, the wait for a first Ashes win since 2015 goes on.

After losing the first two Tests they were attempting to become the first England team to come from 2-0 down to win an Ashes series, but it was too big an ask.

This result also extends an England winless run in Ashes Tests at Old Trafford that dates back to 1981, with the next Ashes Test here not scheduled until 2031.

The final Test of the series at The Oval begins on Thursday.

  • Reaction to Australia retaining the Ashes

England beaten by the weather

In a series that has delivered thrilling, gripping conclusions to each of the first three Tests, this was a colossal anti-climax.

The most one-sided contest to date – the hosts have been in charge of this Test from the first morning – has ended in a draw shaped by the elements. It is the first draw in 17 Tests since Stokes and McCullum took charge of the England team.

With that, the fitting prospect of a series decider at The Oval and England’s shot at the historic achievement of coming from 2-0 down to win the Ashes was washed away.

Knowing that bad weather for the weekend was always likely, Stokes’ side were superb in this match, making the running from the moment the skipper won his fourth consecutive toss.

They were excellent to reduce Australia to 317 all out, awesome in piling up 592 and had victory in their sights on Friday evening, when the tourists closed on 113-4. Since then, only 30 overs have been bowled.

Despite the grim forecast, expectant fans still turned up at Old Trafford on Sunday morning as groundstaff worked to clear heavy overnight rain from the outfield.

Not long after the delayed start was announced, it started to rain once more. Some of the England players emerged to play football, but eventually even they had to admit defeat and returned to the dressing room soaked to the skin.

While it is right to say England have been beaten here by the weather, it is also right to reflect on the errors that led to them being 2-0 down.

England have been the better side across the series, but paid a heavy price for missed chances in the first Test at Edgbaston and a sloppy first-innings batting performance in the second Test at Lord’s.

They took the momentum from victory in the third Test at Headingley into an impressive display here and must now pick themselves up from this disappointment to protect the long unbeaten record in home Ashes series.

England may need to refresh their bowling attack for The Oval. Chris Woakes is struggling with a quad problem and Stuart Broad has played all five Tests this summer. Ollie Robinson and Josh Tongue would be the candidates to come in.

Australia cling on

Australia can celebrate retaining the Ashes but will know they were given a huge helping hand by the weather.

They omitted off-spinner Todd Murphy in this Test in favour of packing their batting and it has ultimately paid dividends.

The tourists are also indebted to Marnus Labuschagne, who made a vital century in the second innings to keep England at bay, particularly in the short passage of play that was possible on Saturday.

Labuschagne is one of the few Australia batters improving across the series. David Warner’s struggles in England are continuing, while the returns of Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, Travis Head and Alex Carey are diminishing.

But perhaps the biggest concern for the visitors will be the way they crumbled in the face of England’s batting assault on the second afternoon at Old Trafford. Their three frontline pace bowlers went for a total of 392 runs from a combined 75 overs, while captain Pat Cummins looked devoid of energy, ideas and authority.

Still, Australia will be leaving this country with the Ashes and the World Test Championship they won by defeating India in the final at The Oval in June.

After a drawn series here in 2019, Australia’s stated aim this time has always been to win the Ashes outright, rather than just retain them.

Avoiding defeat at The Oval will see them do just that.

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