Sloppy but dazzling England won

The destination of the Ashes urn was ultimately settled by the weather.

Not even the fearless positivity of England’s ‘Bazball’ tactics could beat the rain to complete the fourth test.

But weather is always a factor to consider.

When to declare?

Too early, certainly, in the first test – allowing Australia to complete a thrilling run chase at Edgbaston.

Wrongly not, perhaps, by captain Ben Stokes and holding on to reach 592 in the first innings on Friday at Old Trafford.

A determination only clear after the lack of play on Sunday produced a draw.

Australia take a 2-1 lead to the Oval finale next week with the urn retained with at least a series draw.

An 8-8 draw retained the women’s series for Australia, as the tourists took part in a multi-format series.

So all that is left to fight for now is denying Australia a first men’s Ashes series win in England in 22 years.

But the washout seemed such an unsatisfactory way to decide a series.

Fans sheltering from the relentless rain expressed frustration over the lack of extra reserve days being built into the Ashes programme to complete tests.

And the forecast for Monday after a weekend drenching? Sunshine all day in Manchester.

But this is already a congested series – squeezed into six weeks by the end of July to allow the ECB to give its Hundred competitions a window to shine.

‘It’s reaching people it’s never reached before’

This, though, has been an Ashes that has showcased the exhilarating best of the five-day format.

The daring, bolder style encouraged by Brendon McCullum has captivated audiences beyond the cricket diehards in the brief window when domestic football is not completely dominating the sports agenda.

Stokes recalled a conversation in a spa changing room – a man who popped into the pub for the first test for a quick drink.

“He ended up having a few more and said he was just transfixed on the game,” Stokes recalled.

“So when you hear stuff like that, it obviously makes you feel good about what we’re doing, that it’s bringing a new fanbase to the game and it’s reaching people that it might never have reached before.”

England's Ben Stokes watches on at Old Trafford

Test cricket has been made more attractive and approachable – that’s the verdict of former Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara.

“That has made it completely palatable to a larger audience – the newer generation, the younger generation,” the Sky Sports pundit said.

Controversies have taken cricket to the front pages, producing sledging between politicians – with Rishi Sunak joshing with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese about Australia’s contentious stumping of Jonny Bairstow at Lord’s.

That second Test had already seen the moment of drama with Bairstow’s unexpected catch of the series – stopping Just Stop Oil protesters rather than the Australian attack.

And for all Bairstow has been maligned for his ability to keep wicket, memories of the fumbles were replaced by flashes of battling brilliance in Manchester.

His 99 not out from 81 balls here powered England to the 592 that registered their highest home Ashes score since 1985.

Dazzling cricket but without the recent series successes produced in New Zealand and Pakistan.

Read more:

How the fourth Test unfolded

‘Bazball’ is going nowhere

“We stuck by our guns all the way through,” Bairstow said. “We’ll continue to play as we are, as we know the direction we want to go, and there’s a bigger picture with the game of Test cricket.”

That is to maintain Test cricket as the pinnacle of the sport – with the Twenty20 revolution seeing the United States this summer tap into the expansionist opportunities with Major League Cricket.

So ‘Bazball’ will persist as England’s flamboyant approach.

Zak Crawley champions that approach – even if his 189 at Old Trafford ultimately counted for little.

He said: “We’ve shown that being positive suits our players. At other times we absorb pressure.

“But most of the time we try and put pressure back on them.”

England will rue missed opportunities.

“They played some good cricket, but they were sloppy,” said Nasser Hussain, the former England captain turned Sky Sports pundit.

He added: “Wickets off no-balls, they were too ultra-aggressive with the batting at Lord’s, almost believing the hype that they are here to entertain.

“They will look back on these moments and feel they could have done better but you do make mistakes.

“You have to learn from them. If you give Australia a sniff, they will take it.”

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