England retained the Ashes after persistent rain on the final day denied Australia as they attempted to close out victory in the third Test at Old Trafford.
Steady rain washed out the afternoon session with Australia still requiring a further seven wickets with the match eventually abandoned at 16:40 UK time as England secured a series win after just three matches for only the second time in history - the previous occasion being back in 1928-29.
With the forecast poor for the fifth day in Manchester, Michael Clarke declared Australia’s second innings on 172-7 and, after a 30-minute delay to the start of play, his side reduced England to 37-3 in their reply.
It was an unconvincing effort from England’s batsmen as they attempted to play out the final day and salvage a draw, but rain came to the hosts' rescue with just three balls possible after the lunch break.
The result ensured that Alastair Cook’s side retained the Ashes with England holding the urn for the third series in succession after the hosts won the opening two Tests at Trent Bridge and Lord’s. It was the first time England have retained the Ashes with a draw, while Australia have done so on 11 occasions.
It was a crushing disappointment for the tourists who had dominated the match from the outset after Clarke won the toss and elected to bat on a good wicket, compiling a masterful 187 in the first innings to give his side control.
England will now head into the final two Tests at Chester-le-Street and The Oval with the Ashes already secured as Cook’s side turn their attention to winning the series outright in Durham.
The players belatedly emerged after early rain saw the start of play delayed by 30 minutes, and Australia’s bowlers swiftly caused havoc as Cook was trapped lbw by paceman Ryan Harris for a nine-ball duck.
The England captain immediately called for an ill-judged review, squandering one of his side’s two referrals with replays showing that he was plumb in front of his stumps and clearly out.
Jonathan Trott only lasted 27 balls as he departed for a scratchy 11 with Harris again the bowler to strike as wicketkeeper Brad Haddin took a comfortable catch behind the stumps.
England were suddenly floundering badly in their second innings in tricky overcast conditions and, when Kevin Pietersen was controversially dismissed for eight off Peter Siddle, the hosts were left reeling at 27-3.
Pietersen prodded forward hesitantly with Haddin again taking the catch behind the stumps and the centurion from the first innings was given out by on-field umpire Tony Hill before the batsman asked for a review.
But it was England’s second unsuccessful DRS referral of the day as, despite Hot Spot not indicating any contact with the bat, a noise ensured that the third umpire Kumar Dharmasena upheld the original decision, much to Pietersen’s frustration.
Ian Bell (4 not out) joined opener Joe Root (13 not out) at the crease and the in-form England number five sustained a nasty blow on the hand as a vicious delivery from Siddle reared up and struck him with the ball landing safe for two runs.
It was to be the final delivery of the match as the players were forced off the field with a sudden downpour ending Australia’s chances of taking a further seven wickets and closing out a victory that would have kept the series alive ahead of the fourth Test.
The umpires' decision to go off for bad light frustrated Australia in Sunday's evening session, but there was little they could do on Monday with standing water still on the outfield as Andy Flower's men were left to celebrate on the balcony and mingle with fans.
For England it was a satisfactory result given Australia’s dominance throughout the Test and one that ensured Cook’s side retained the Ashes in just 14 days; for Australia, however, it was another big blow following an encouraging all-round performance.
The series now moves to Durham with the fourth Test getting under way at Chester-le-Street on Friday where England will look to clinch an outright victory in a third successive Ashes series.
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