Key questions after abandoned final day of drawn fourth Ashes Test

England’s suffered Ashes agony at Emirates Old Trafford, as their hopes of taking a memorable series to a winner-takes-all decider fell foul of the weather.

The fifth and final day of the fourth Test was abandoned without a ball being bowled, leaving a dominant home side unable to pick up the hunt for the last five Australian wickets.

The first draw of the ‘Bazball’ era guarantees the tourists will hold on to the urn, leading 2-1 with one more game to go at the Kia Oval, and here the PA news agency looks at some of the key questions coming out of the frustrating finish.

If England can still draw the series 2-2, why have Australia retained the Ashes?

To sum it up in a word: tradition. While England fans know all too well about one-day cricket’s tie-breakers – having needed a super over and a boundary countback to pip New Zealand to the 2019 World Cup – Test cricket has no problem with the draw. When it comes to the format’s oldest rivalry the holders must be beaten outright to lose their bragging rights. Australia’s last trip to England ended with similar questions, as the tourists celebrated a 2-2 scoreline while England reflected on unfinished business. Captain Ben Stokes was given the chance to question the custom after the match, but waved it away without a second thought.

Is there any way England could have forced a win in this Test?

England chose to let Jonny Bairstow bat on rather than declaring.

England chose to let Jonny Bairstow bat on rather than declaring (Mike Egerton/PA)

Having been criticised for declaring too early on the first day of the series at Edgbaston, Stokes now finds himself scrutinised for doing the direct opposite in the fourth Test. Rather than calling his side in shortly after lunch on day three, he allowed Jonny Bairstow to continue flogging Australia’s bowlers in the afternoon session as he finished on 99 not out. England finished with a first-innings lead of 275, but did not have enough time in the field to convert that into victory. An earlier withdrawal would certainly have given them more time to collect 10 wickets, but a slimmer advantage means they would have probably needed to bat again. Ultimately, their push was ruined by the rain, with 30 overs out of a scheduled 180 over the weekend. By scoring their runs at almost 5.5 an over and picking 15 wickets, England can hardly be accused of being ponderous with the time they had.

How can cricket stop important matches ending like this?

A damp draw was an unsatisfactory end to the fourth Ashes Test.

A damp draw was an unsatisfactory end to the fourth Ashes Test (Martin Rickett/PA)

Assuming the holy grail of cricket grounds with a roof remains an expensive pipe dream, what else is there to do? The World Test Championship final has been granted a reserve day since the International Cricket Council brought it in but the idea of rolling that idea out more broadly look fanciful in the extreme. Tours are getting shorter and more congested and the cost of booking holding venues and staff for an extra day that will rarely be used would be prohibitive, especially outside England. More realistic is a push to improve over-rates. Financial sanctions have proved a hollow threat. More proactive umpiring, fewer stoppages and run penalties could all be looked at, while others suggest eating into the lunch and tea breaks. The resistance to pulling start times forward from 11am to make up for lost time remains baffling.

What’s on the line at the Oval this week?

  • 2005: Eng won 2-1

  • 2009: Eng won 2-1

  • 2013: Eng won 3-0

  • 2015: Eng won 3-2

  • 2019: Drawn 2-2

The last Australia side to win in England did so back in 2001, meaning the current class has a chance to do something a generation of their compatriots could not. They snapped a long losing streak with a shared series four years ago and will be desperate to go one better now. For England, there is a chance to keep up an undefeated streak under the Stokes-McCullum leadership regime and frustrate their rivals in the process. A 3-1 loss would be a poor reflection on their efforts over recent weeks, so there is some work to do to deliver a more fitting result.

Why does it feel like the end of an era?

James Anderson is one of several players who may not grace the Ashes stage again.

James Anderson is one of several players who may not grace the Ashes stage again (Martin Rickett/PA)

Because it is. Several of the key protagonists are well into the autumn of their careers and face uncertain futures. The next battle is not until the winter of 2025/26 and there are a host of veterans for whom that seems a long way. England’s record wicket-taker James Anderson turns 41 at the end of the month, Moeen Ali is sure to return to Test retirement in the coming days, while Stuart Broad (37), Chris Woakes (34) and Mark Wood (33) have plenty of miles on the clock. As for Stokes, his body is creaking and the toll his injury problems are taking is not yet clear. For Australia, David Warner has already set his own timetable for departure while it would be a surprise to see Steve Smith, Josh Hazlewood, Usman Khawaja, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon on these shores again in 2027. The Oval Test could be the last dance for these teams.

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