Australia retain Ashes as fourth Test ends in draw
ENGLAND'S hopes of setting up a winner-takes-all Ashes decider were wiped out by the Manchester weather, with a fifth day washout in the fourth Test handing the urn to Australia.
The most pessimistic forecasts came to pass at Emirates Old Trafford as relentless rain meant the players never made it to the middle, salvaging a draw for the tourists and rendering their 2-1 series lead unassailable.
England arrived 61 ahead and needing five wickets to get over the line but left without a ball being bowled.
They have all but eliminated the concept of the draw since captain Ben Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum ushered in the 'Bazball' era more than a year ago, but - for the first time in 17 games at the helm - conditions finally left them with no cards to play.
After weeks of blockbuster entertainment in the closest, most exciting Ashes contest since 2005, a shootout for glory at the Kia Oval next week was on the cards if there had been enough time for England to convert their dominance.
Instead, dreams of a stirring comeback to beat their rivals for the first time since 2015 were swept away, leaving the holders to retain in circumstances that will surely ring hollow.
Australia made it clear they were more than happy to finish the job in the pavilion rather than out on the pitch, but any post-match celebrations may be slightly muted after this narrow escape.
There is still plenty to play for, with Australia bidding to claim a first outright win on English soil in 22 years while their opponents are seeking to square the ledger at 2-2 and preserve an undefeated streak under Stokes' leadership. But a home win being taken off the table by the elements is the definition of a damp squib.
England had made all the running here, piling up a 275-run first-innings advantage and taking five of the 10 wickets they needed to finish the job before the skies turned against them.
Five of the last six sessions were lost without a ball bowled, leaving a 30-over window on Saturday afternoon as the only play possible on the wettest of weekends. England will be cursing their misfortune and have now lost the chance to be become just the second team in Ashes history to win from 2-0 down.
The momentum of the series swung when captain Ben Stokes embarked on a six-hitting rampage in the fourth innings at Lord's, apparently sparked into life by Alex Carey's controversial stumping of Jonny Bairstow, and, although his magnificent century was not enough to save that game, it set things on a new path.
England took the third Test at Headingley in relatively comfortably fashion - the first of three must-win games - and spent the first three days on the other side of the Pennines establishing an even more dominant position.
Zak Crawley's outrageous 189 and an unbeaten 99 from Bairstow saw them pile up 592, their highest total against Australia in a dozen years, and an three-wicket blast from Mark Wood tightened their grip on the third evening as Australia stumbled to 113 for four.
That was as good as it got for the hosts, with Marnus Labuschagne making 111 and Mitch Marsh batting through what became the final session of the match to keep Australian heads above water.
The sides will reconvene in south London on Thursday for the final chapter in a memorable tour.