Ashes 2013: Downpours dilute home triumph at Old Trafford but urn stays on these shores
The weather made an unlikely victory for Australia impossible, despite three early wickets on the final day
At 4.39pm, England officially retained the Ashes.
There was not an open-topped bus in sight, partly because it would have been ruinous for the seats given the rain that was teeming over Manchester, partly because it would have been vastly inappropriate.
To see more images of England celebrating, CLICK HERE
The celebrations were necessarily muted because the holders escaped with a draw after being thoroughly outplayed by Australia during most of four and a bit days. Had four and a bit been allowed to become five, the tourists may well still be in with a chance of getting their hands on the terracotta urn itself.
The earliest date on which Australia can now recapture the greatest prize is sometime in December, were they to go 3-0 ahead at Perth in the return series later in the year.
But that is to leap much too far into the future.
For the moment Australia will be aware – painfully aware perhaps – that they can still draw this series and that such an aspiration is suddenly entwined with reality rather than embedded deep in the realms of fantasy. Had the weather not interfered when Australia were slicing through England on the final morning of the third Investec Test, they would still be in with a chance of winning this series.
Still 2-0 up with two to play, England have a few days to regroup before the fourth match starting in Durham on Friday. They have added Chris Tremlett and Graham Onions to the team that played at Old Trafford. At least one of them may play.
One poor match – and as in the first two, losing the toss was probably a hindrance – does not a poor team make but it does show that there is less between these sides than was generally estimated after the second Test at Lord’s.
England were set 332 to win after their opponents declared their second innings at the overnight total of 172 for seven. It was soon to prove academic. England were not planning to go for the runs, Australia had not the slightest intention of allowing them to get within 100.
Play was delayed until 11.30am because of heavy overnight rain and the tourists emerged from their dressing room, as if unleashed from a cage, ready to maul England. Within the space of 16.2 overs three wickets had fallen. Limbs were being torn off.
For Australia to compete this summer, it was always certain that their fast bowlers would be the key. In the third over, Ryan Harris, again doing his impression of Ben Grimm from the Fantastic Four, beat Alastair Cook coming forward. Cook reviewed the decision and cannot have been entirely surprised to see that the ball was hitting middle and off stumps about half way up.
The decision review system has understandably been questioned in this series but it is often human error at both ends, interpreting the available information before and after, which is at fault. It was introduced to eliminate the howler. Cook’s decision to review was certainly that.
There was time for yet more controversy when Jonathan Trott played round a ball from Harris which seared in at him. It looked lbw but umpire Tony Hill ruled in favour of the batsman. The review showed the ball was hitting leg stump but Trott survived on grounds of insufficient contact.
It mattered not on this occasion because he was snaffled in the next over glancing one down the leg side. That and DRS dismissals is becoming a feature of this series.
DRS was in action again before long when Kevin Pietersen drove at Siddle away from his body. Whatever the virtues of the stroke – either it is the way he plays or it was utterly unwarranted – what mattered was whether he hit it. The umpire said he had, Pietersen after discussion asked for the third umpire to have another look.
There was insufficient evidence for the decision to be overturned and Pietersen, initially perplexed and then angry, had to depart. The snicko gizmo soon showed contact registering about four on the Richter scale but on another day Pietersen would have remained.
The contest could hardly be more dramatic by now. Australia were so dominant that they will have sensed victory. It could have come in as few as 30 overs the way things were developing.
Joe Root, shelled by Michael Clarke at second slip, dropped anchor but had his bat passed. England needed a break and they got it. During lunch it rained for the first time.
It stopped in time for the teams to come back. The third ball after the resumption leapt at Ian Bell, hit him on the thumb and winged its way over the slips. He needed treatment and by the time he was all right to continue there was no need for him to continue.
The rain returned and it never stopped. England escaped. They had what they came for. Of course, it was all anti-climactic because we have come to expect the Ashes to be won, as they have on the last two occasions at home with matches that shred the nerves and tingle the spine. This one might have done but it was cut off in its prime.
It should be clear that England have retained the Ashes not because of their performance in the third Test but because they outplayed Australia in large segments of the first two games and won them both. The record shows that not since 1928-29 when Wally Hammond and Percy Chapman were young gods have England secured the Ashes as early as the third Test in a series.
That is an achievement worth mentioning. As Alastair Cook, England’s captain, observed had he been asked if he would take this position 15 playing days ago he would have taken it. “The dressing room is a pretty happy place,” he said.
So it should have been. But there is a series still to be won and it will take some doing now.
To see how the day unfolded, click here.
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