Cricket: One day left for England to claim the consolation prize: Rain's first appearance of the summer improves Australia's chances of returning home unbeaten after the sixth Test match finishes at The Oval today

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England 380 and 313

Australia 303 and 1-0

A FEW more depressions on Michael Fish's weather map might have equated to a little less depression surrounding English cricket this summer, and, sure enough, after 28 consecutive days' play without so much as a minute or a ball lost to the weather, Wisden's Law 43 (the invisible law of Sod) yesterday poked its nose in just when it was least needed.

On a day already truncated by 45 minutes after heavy morning rain, another nasty black cloud arrived to lop off a further 95 from the final session, and England's prospects of scoring what (with the football season already upon us) might be described as a consolational goal, are that much thinner this morning.

Australia, requiring an improbable 391 to win, have registered a dribbled single past short leg off Devon Malcolm, and given the fact that there was the distinct aroma of burning leather around Michael Slater's nostrils, rarely has a single been scampered quite so keenly. However, then came the rain, and only six hours now remain for England to register their first Test victory over Australia in 19 attempts.

If they do not manage it, and it is now odds against, the game will live longer in Graham Gooch's memory than anyone else's, the former captain having partially erased some of this summer's bad ones by becoming England's highest Test match run-scorer. He could, of course, have made this target a little less accessible by picking David Gower more often, but Gooch's achievements in recent years have been so phenomenal that even the Gower fan club might have fired off a congratulatory telegram on Saturday.

Gooch is now even essaying a tentative forward defensive rather than the full block to inquiries about touring the West Indies this winter, albeit more as an injury stand-by. As an England trip to the Caribbean normally tots up to something like two broken fingers and a cracked wrist, it is not beyond the bounds that Gooch will be hoiked out of the stand at West Ham one February afternoon before nipping off home to pack the Bermuda shorts and the chest protector.

Gooch was his customary bashful self when first the crowd, and then the Australians, proferred their congratulations on Saturday, but there has always been the suspicion of him playing up to the 'dunno what all the fuss is about' image. Deep down, his record of 8,293 runs in 195 innings (and let's not forget his total after two of them was zero) causes him deep personal satisfaction, even though he inclines to the consenting adult approach to celebrating, and does it in private.

The Australians, however, tend to wear their emotions on their sleeves, which is why match referees get a little twitchy when they are in the field, and why there were smiles and handshakes all round when their bowlers departed an English field for the last time this summer yesterday.

The last of England's remaining five wickets (which yielded a further 103) fell to a faintly comical, overweight figure with a large expanse of Australian bush country under his nose, but 31 wickets represents a serious opponent, and Merv Hughes's value as a team man was never better illustrated than by the effusive way he congratulated his fellow practitioners when they returned to the pavilion.

Shane Warne ended up with 34 wickets (only two spinners have ever taken more in a Test series), Tim May took 21, and even the unconsidered Paul Reiffel finished with 19 in three Test matches. All of them were heavily assisted by Ian Healy, whose 26 dismissals in a series has only ever been bettered by Rodney Marsh.

England's batting was largely pulled together yesterday by Mark Ramprakash, whose temperament for Test cricket was further enhanced by his first Test half-century before (as he was entitled, with Malcolm at the other end) slogging Hughes to mid-off. Ramprakash is an attacking player, but in 1991 against the West Indies he batted for 14 hours for only 210 runs and a top score of 29. This represents 15 runs per hour, an average he maintained here with 64 in a shade over four hours.

In an important stand, Alec Stewart kept him company in a sixth-wicket partnership of 68, Steve Watkin padded up to a perfectly straight Warne full toss, and while Peter Such has improved sufficiently to have taken possession of a new sponsored bat, yesterday he demonstrated why most sponsors would pay him rather more to use someone else's.

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