How mean. What a pity it should have ended like this. Two rainy days in Manchester denied us one of the greatest matches in English cricket history.
A decider at the Oval with a score of 2-2 and the sheer power with which England are looking to complete their biggest Ashes comeback would have been the best there is.
Thursday’s final test is still a long way off – a draw series would be a laudable result for England from two deficits – but it’s not the same.
This forever Ashes series won’t have the finale it deserves. There will be no more 2005 moment now. Just an everlasting sense of what could have been for England.
Make no mistake, England would have won that fourth Test if only a few more hours had been played in the last two days, two sessions at most. They produced a near-perfect game at the perfect time, until the weather gods decided to spoil the fun.
Australia retained the Ashes after a tie in the fourth Test at Old Trafford
England captain Ben Stokes saw his hopes for the Ashes dashed by miserable rain in Manchester
Torrential rain prevented a game from taking place at Old Trafford on Sunday
It will be a hollow triumph for Australia if they don’t recover from the floor at the oval and somehow put on a performance worthy of the best Test team in the world.
At Old Trafford, and indeed most of this series, they looked anything but. Australia have been beaten and bullied to the point of defeat here, while captain Pat Cummins, at least as a leader, may never recover from that injury.
That may not be much of a consolation at the moment, but England were clearly the better side in this Ashes tournament. They will curse the rain in Manchester but they should never have lost the first Test at Edgbaston nor endured a costly and self-defeating episode at Lord’s.
It’s England who played like a champion. England, which has thrilled and entertained an old and possibly new generation of Test cricket fans, and England, which has shown that with a little finesse, Bazball can compete against the very best teams.
What is undeniable is that since the controversial incident at Lord’s when Alex Carey ‘stumbled’ – Jonny Bairstow – I still say he should be phased out – England have come out on top and all hell broke loose among the MCC members in the Lord’s pavilion.
Previously it had been the friendly Ashes but that sense of injustice immediately shook England in the form of a rousing inning from Ben Stokes and strong support from Stuart Broad that nearly gave them a second Test win.
England then continued to be the dominant force at Headingley, albeit faltering at lunchtime on the second day, and then the stars tipped for Bazball’s finest hour yet here at Old Trafford, albeit a shortened one.
Stokes did everything in his power to win that test in fast-forward and was right to keep batting while Bairstow was in full swing on Friday, giving them a chance to make it a three-innings match. But it was all in vain.
Marnus Labuschagne survived 111 runs at bat before falling behind on Saturday
Jonny Bairstow delivered an epic 99 not-out performance with the bat in England’s first innings
Australia, meanwhile, were startled by the sight of outraged MCC pensioners at Lord’s and two of the nicest members of their team – Cummins and Carey – have not been the same since they together missed a golden opportunity to do the right thing and call Bairstow back.
It’s perfectly fine for Cummins to say he has no regrets about obeying the cricket laws and for Carey to say he would do the same again.
But in time they will surely realize, as Brendon McCullum did after a similar incident during his playing days, that they failed to see the bigger picture and allowed the importance of the event to cloud their judgment. They almost paid for that with the series.
There was much talk on Saturday, at least on social media, about what else could have been done to get this show on the road, but the truth is that Manchester was so wet and miserable that cricket simply had to give in to the weather.
Australia captain Pat Cummins may never recover from the injuries sustained by his side, despite the overall success
England entertained at Old Trafford, sweeping the crowd with both racquet and ball
Two days of heavy rain – and also on the last two days of testing – are rare and come at the worst time here. But with no reserve days built in – and good luck with those crazy cricket schedules – nothing could have saved that fourth Test.
Joe Root’s suggestion on the Test Match Special that play should continue each day until allotted overs are bowled is valid – if nothing else, it might encourage players to keep going. But a full 90 a day wouldn’t have made a difference here.
Also yesterday’s announcement that lunch would be served at 12.20pm when it was actually not raining did not bode well for the game. The fact of the matter is, the officials knew the outfield wouldn’t be ready until 1pm, so they took care of lunch. Then it rained again.
There was plenty to enjoy in those Ashes for England. Not least the impression made by Mark Wood and calmly Chris Woakes in the last two tests. And the spectacular confirmation of her belief in Zak Crawley with one of the great test centuries.
Australia didn’t look like the world champions they are and if they don’t win at the oval it will be a paltry victory for the team
Zak Crawley was England’s ace with the bat as he hit 189 runs in England’s first innings
You’ll also take great delight in seeing Bairstow getting back into shape with both racquet and gloves as he remains one of Bazball England’s most important players.
For now, England must put the huge disappointment of the first draw of the Bazball era behind them and determine the best side to play at the Oval on Thursday.
Woakes looks doubtful over his thigh stiffness while the debate over whether Jimmy Anderson’s extraordinary career is coming to an end will continue. There will also be questions as to whether Broad, who now has 600 wickets to his tally, will be able to take part in all six Tests of the summer.
England really need to keep going like this. The last test is important. But whatever happens at the Oval, their Ashes dream is over and, agonizingly, there was nothing they could do about it here.