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Rain dampens England’s Ashes hopes: 4th Test ends in draw in anti-climax

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Ten years ago, in the summer of 2013 at Old Trafford, the fifth day of an Ashes Test got washed off entirely, resulting in a draw. England, who was 2-0 up prior to the game, were reeling at 37/3 chasing a target of 332 before rain had the final say. It meant that England had retained the urn under the most fortunate of circumstances. Fast forward to 2023 and they found themselves at the other end of the spectrum at the very same venue.

The forecast for the final day at Old Trafford was always expected to be gloomy and it’s exactly how things panned out. Rain refused to relent from the outset and the result was a foregone conclusion much before it was officially announced. It was still a Test match to remember for England who put on a daredevil effort to keep their Ashes dreams alive, only for the weather to thwart them at the finishing line.

Ben Stokes surprised everyone by opting to bowl on a good batting surface but his bowlers vindicated his decision by restricting Australia to a below-par total of 317. The Old Trafford pitch was good for batting with good pace and carry, with the movement on offer also not being extravagant. Plenty of Australian batters got starts and failed to carry on, largely due to some lazy shot selection and also due to England’s disciplined bowling attack. Chris Woakes, with his maiden Ashes fifer, stood out while Mark Wood made his presence felt with big breakthroughs.

With the forecast for days four and five being ominously bad, England had a race to run against the weather and they used their Bazball template perfectly to set things up. Over the course of their innings, it became apparent why Stokes wanted to bowl at the toss instead of the common notion that batting first was the better idea. England smashed their way to 592 at almost run-a-ball with Zak Crawley leading the charge. He was particularly ruthless in the post-lunch session on day two when Australia’s bowlers were left clueless.

Crawley’s assault set the foundation for England for whom six of their top seven batters got to fifty-plus scores. Apart from the opener’s heroics, Joe Root’s class and Jonny Bairstow’s blitzkrieg were noteworthy as the Australian bowlers were put to the sword. Josh Hazlewood did end with a five-wicket haul but it was a rather laborious one at that. On a dry surface with a hint of spin, the Aussies arguably missed a specialist spinner. Their plan to lengthen the batting line-up also didn’t work in the first innings.

With a hefty lead of 275, it was upto England’s bowlers to do the rest and to be fair, they were brilliant in the passage to Stumps on the third day, snapping up four wickets including the big scalps of David Warner and Steve Smith. The fiery spells of Wood were too hot to handle and Australia were pushed to the brink before rain intervened. Credit is also due to Marnus Labuschagne and Mitchell Marsh for their partnership on the fourth day where Australia lost just a single wicket in the 30 overs bowled.

Unfortunately for England, those 30 overs were the only ones they’d get across the last two days. Despite the gloomy forecast, they’d have hoped for at least another 30 overs or so. Australia did look solid in their vigil on the fourth day but the pressure of retaining the urn and batting on the final day can make teams do weird things. In the end, it never got there as Manchester’s weather had the final say. The series is still to play for, as Australia seek to win their first series in England since 2001.

Brief scores: Australia 317 (Mitchell Marsh 51, Marnus Labuschagne 51; Chris Woakes 5-62) and 214/5 (Marnus Labuschagne 111, Mitchell Marsh 31*; Mark Wood 3-27) trail England 592 (Zak Crawley 189, Jonny Bairstow 99*, Joe Root 84; Josh Hazlewood 5-126) by 61 runs

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