England rue bad-light call as Ashes hopes slip away on dank day four

It will not surprise you to hear a golf-mad England dressing-room passed the time during the persistent rains on day four at Emirates Old Trafford by watching the Open, away to the west at Hoylake. And as much as this was a group indulging their hobby while their day jobs were put on hold, there was some useful crossover.

Every player and coach had their weather apps open, either on their phones or laptops while cooped up in the home dressing room, aside from a period between 2.42pm and 5pm in which they were able to get on the field for 30 overs. But it was through the television screens that they were getting their most useful visual cues.

While umbrellas in Manchester were open for most of the day, the sight of them being closed some 47 miles away at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club offered hope, seeing as the weather was coming from that direction out west. The Open’s final round is sure to be back on the TV on Sunday as well, although with the next band of rain sweeping down from the north, England may have to find alternative reasons for optimism. Their window of opportunity is closing as they seek five more wickets to prevent Australia from retaining the urn with a match to spare. The tourists are now 214 for five in their second innings, trailing by 61.

“It was nice, the golf was on,” Marcus Trescothick, England’s batting coach, said. “It’s obviously in the right direction, so when the brollies went down over there, we were a little bit more hopeful we might get a bit of break in it.” As for what their forecasts were saying for day five, Trescothick was far less upbeat: “Rain, unfortunately.”

Those 30 overs were more than England expected to get. Australia’s addition of 101 runs closed the gap to just 61, but the loss of Marnus Labuschagne for 111, his first century of the series, means the tail is now just two wickets away.

Even that chunk of play came with caveats. After 17 overs, the umpires ruled the light was too poor for England to continue with their quicks when Ben Stokes wanted to turn back to Mark Wood from the James Anderson end. It was a particular impediment to England’s hopes, given that Wood would have been armed with a harder, replacement ball, given that the original had been changed the over before after losing its shape because of the moisture picked up from the damp outfield.

That ball had been good to England on Friday evening, particularly Wood who had been getting some handy reverse-swing which helped him take three for 17 from seven overs. England’s fielders were also unhappy that Labuschagne got involved with the change of ball. In the end, only one over of pace was bowled with the replacement, by James Anderson.

Just as it looked like a period of stasis had come over proceedings with Moeen Ali and Joe Root bowling in tandem, the latter struck to remove Labuschagne, caught behind attempting a cut. It was originally given not out on the field before DRS showed a spike as the ball clearly snicked the bat. The batter had previously enjoyed a life when he edged a surprise away-swinger from Root which almost took Zak Crawley’s head off at first slip before running away for four to take Labuschagne to 97.

Root also came close to removing Marsh on 31 after the allrounder inside-edged to Harry Brook, but a tough chance was put down at short leg. Then, off what ended up being the final delivery of the day, Root and England thought they had snared Green at first slip via an inside-edge off the pad, but this review proved unsuccessful.

“He’s a little bit of a golden arm, isn’t he?” Trescothick said of Root, who now has 58 Test dismissals, including 13 since Stokes took charge. “He just has that ability to come in, two or three overs here, a little spell now and again and just pick up one or two wickets and he has a good knack of doing that.

“We know how good a player he (Labuschagne) is. It’s a big, big player out of the way on a decent pitch. So we’ve still got a decent amount of work to do, it’s not going to be a case of turning up and the ball is going to swing around with a new ball all over the place and nip about, and we’ll roll them over in ten overs. I think we’re going to need a bit more time and a bit more graft than that, but there’s one less person that we have to knock over, which is important”

Trescothick has no qualms if most of what they get from day five, or perhaps even all of it, comes in similar conditions. While there may be a gripe about the timing of the bad-light decision, particularly with little discernable difference in visibility, England know they will have to squeeze the most out of whatever they are given.

“Firstly, we were sat on the balcony and we didn’t think it had deteriorated that much to not allow the seamers to bowl,” Trescothick said. “The umpires out in the middle deemed it was too dark and they’ve got to make that decision. It didn’t feel like it from where we were, but we’re 50 metres, 60 metres from the edge of the pitch.

“And tomorrow, if that’s what we’ve got, and that’s what we’re given, then that’s what we’ll take. Any opportunity that we can get out in the middle tomorrow, we will be grabbing with both hands.”

On the other side of the fence, Labuschagne has urged Australia to ensure they are switched on to react accordingly to whatever situation eventuates on Sunday, even if the rain is very much in their favour. A similar application to Saturday’s would go a long way to securing the urn and giving them a shot at winning a first Ashes away from home since 2001.

“As players you have to be prepared to play, and think we saw we took the game on,” he said. “We knew the task we had. We knew it wasn’t going to be a massively long day, but we had to be on for that two-hour stint. For us now, it’s about retaining the Ashes, this is what it comes down to, whatever time we have left tomorrow, there’s only one option which is bat out the day. The rain will play its part but I certainly think there’ll be some play.”

As for the possibility of batting on into a lead and giving England a chase, Labuschagne was understandably unenthusiastic.

“No, no chance, zero. As in get ahead? We’re sixty behind!

“I mean if Mitch gets going maybe, if Mitch and Green put on an absolutely unbelievable partnership, but I think we’re just going to let it play out, get bowled out when we do. I don’t think we’re going to give England a sniff, I think that’s exactly what they’d like.”

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