Given that neither of these sides have found the secret of success when it comes to Twenty20 cricket, "match abandoned" might not be such a bad result all round. But by the time drizzle turned to heavy rain yesterday with England's innings seven deliveries old, Australia's total was looking better by the minute.
Under normal circumstances, a target of 146 is not too daunting. Here, though, it could have been more than enough with Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson having already confirmed the earlier suspicion that banging the ball in short was the way to go.
Joe Denly, a hero on his 50-over international debut in Belfast three days earlier when scoring 67, promptly went to zero – splicing a simple catch to backward square leg after trying to hook Lee's 90 mph bouncer. Then Ravi Bopara's miserable sequence of failure continued with a routine edge to slip once Johnson had fed him a lifter outside off stump.
Having earlier dropped Australia's top-scorer, Cameron White, while England's bowlers were well on top, Denly will not remember his first Twenty20 outing with any great affection. But at least he has some runs whereas Bopara – dropped from the Test team before the Ashes decider – also missed out against Ireland.
England have tried 13 opening partnerships in the shortest form of the game, in just 21 games, and the Bopara/ Denly pairing may well be given another opportunity tomorrow when these two outfits meet again at the same venue and over the same distance. But if the same pitch is used then a different approach will be needed.
Australia, surprisingly, have lost their last five T20s so a "no result" at least stops the rot. But England, with three defeats and two wins this summer, must have fancied their chances of taking another step in the right direction exactly a week after half a dozen of them were running around The Oval with the (imitation) Ashes urn – until the reply began.
They had limited the visitors to three sixes, all hit by White after he was reprieved, and half a dozen fours. No wonder the crowd, though pleased with England's success, remained subdued for the most part.
For maximum effect, Twenty20 ought to be played either under a burning sun or beneath blazing floodlights deep into the night. But, hey, beggars cannot be choosers during this barbecue summer of ours so slate grey skies on an afternoon feeling autumnal and only slightly brightened by artificial illumination had to suffice.
There should be plenty of boundaries, too, in crash, bang, wallop cricket yet – despite scoring briskly enough against the new ball – Australia managed to reach the rope just three times in the opening six power-play overs. That was partly down to a pitch lacking oomph but also due to some intelligent bowling with Ryan Sidebottom varying his pace and length to frustrate Shane Watson and David Warner.
The short ball proved particularly difficult to get away, and when Watson tried to pull Stuart Broad over the top he presented Bopara with a straightforward catch at mid-wicket.
Collingwood has become a "turn to in desperation" sort of bowler in Test cricket. But, given a sluggish surface, his medium-pacers can be decidedly handy in the limited-overs stuff, as was proved here with Warner and then David Hussey perishing in the space of three deliveries. Warner was a bit unlucky, given out lbw to a ball that pitched a fraction outside leg stump, but Hussey – having scored a century against Scotland on Friday – missed with an ugly sweep to be stumped.
If White had been caught by Denly when steering Jimmy Anderson to backward point, Australia might have struggled to make 130. Instead, a low but far from difficult two-hander went to ground and a recovery followed from what should have been 69 for four.
White, reprieved on 12, pulled, drove and then hoisted Broad, Swann and Sidebottom for three leg-side sixes while making all but 23 of a 78-run partnership with Michael Clarke that spanned 60 deliveries. He finally drilled Broad to cover but there was still time for Wright to spill a sitter at long on – to the dismay of bowler Sidebottom – as the last five overs boosted Australia's total by 52.
England were still favourites at that stage. But Lee's third delivery was simply too quick, and climbed too steeply, for Denly while Bopara's attempt to help Johnson's delivery to third man failed to bear fruit.
Johnson became an easy target for home supporters during the early part of the Ashes series when he bowled poorly. But the left-armer got his act together from Edgbaston onwards and, here, he gave his barrackers a victory salute as Bopara trooped away. Within seconds, the rest of the players followed the departing batsman and that was that.
Old Trafford: Scoreboard
England v Australia (No result: rain stopped play)
England won toss AUSTRALIA
S Watson c Bopara b Broad......... 10
D Warner lbw b Collingwood......... 33
26 balls 3 fours
*M Clarke not out......... 27
34 balls 1 four
D Hussey st Prior b Collingwood......... 0
C White c Collingwood b Broad......... 55
36 balls 1 four 3 sixes
A Voges not out......... 11
8 balls 1 four
Extras (lb 3, w 6)......... 9
Total (4 wkts, 20 overs)......... 145
Fall: 35-1 (Watson), 54-2 (Warner), 54-3 (Hussey), 132-4 (White).
Did not bat: †T D Paine, M G Johnson, B Lee, N M Hauritz, D P Nannes.
Bowling: J Anderson 4-0-28-0 (w2) (2-0-17-0, 2-0-10-0), R Sidebottom 4-0-31-0 (w1) (1-0-5-0, 1-0-4-0, 2-0-22-0), S Broad 4-0-33-2 (w1) (2-0-15-1, 1-0-12-0), P Collingwood 4-0-20-2 (w1) (One spell), L Wright 1-0-6-0 (One spell), G Swann 3-0-24-0 (1-0-5-0, 2-0-19-0).
Progress: 50 in 7.3 overs. 100 in 15.2 overs. White 50: 33 balls, 1 four, 3 sixes.
R Bopara c Watson b Johnson......... 1
J Denly c Hauritz b Lee......... 0
J Trott not out......... 0
Extras (w 2, nb 1)......... 3
Total (2 wkts, 1.1 overs)......... 4
Fall: 1-1 (Denly), 2-4 (Bopara).
To bat: †M J Prior, *P D Collingwood, O A Shah, L J Wright, S C J Broad, G P Swann, R J Sidebottom, J M Anderson.
Bowling: B Lee 1-0-3-1 (w1nb1) (one spell), M Johnson 0.1-0-1-1 (w1) (one spell).
Umpires: I J Gould & R A Kettleborough.