Australia will keep the famous urn after rain washed out the final day’s play at Old Trafford, denying fans a thrilling finish to the fourth Test – and the opportunity for the Ashes to be decided in a fifth-Test blockbuster at The Oval.
While England fans were in meltdown, the back pages of the UK newspapers lamented England’s hopes being washed away by the dreary weather.
The Independent’s back page read: “Ashes go down the drain”.
“That’s so urnfair”, was the headline in The Sun, while the Star claimed: “You may have fluked Ashes, Pat, but we still rain over you!”
All that despite being 2-1 down.
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But there’s no doubt that England were the better team in the fourth Test and were firm favourites to go on and win the match if rain had not saved the Aussie hides.
Former England captain Michael Atherton wrote in the Times: “Rarely have Australia been so outplayed as they were over the first three days of this game, and England’s brilliant and bold cricket deserved a more just outcome.
“Not since Ian Botham at his peak in the 1980s has an Australian team looked as rattled as they did in the field here.”
Another former England skipper, Michael Vaughan, wrote in the Telegraph: “Australia were timid, scared and petrified of this England team all week in Manchester and played for rain. Australia were rattled: I can’t remember saying that before. They will know that only rain saved them. It ranks as one of the luckiest escapes I can remember.
“If England play anything like this again, they will win at the Oval and level the series. They will not have retained the Ashes, but might just have been the better team across the series.”
However, he said England had also paid the price for mistakes in the opening two Tests that both fell Australia’s way.
Vaughan wrote of England: “But they can have no complaints about Australia retaining the Ashes, and this series not getting the grandstand finish it deserved at the Oval.”
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The former England captain also referenced the Australian bowling attack’s dismal performance, with Pat Cummins having a tough outing as captain with his most expensive innings ever of 1-129 to go with two missed run-outs and a dropped catch.
“England completely dismantled Australia to a point where they were unable to deliver the basics,” he wrote. “They were psychologically affected by the Bazball juggernaut. Australia forgot that in Test cricket if your best ball gets hit, don’t go away from bowling your best ball.
“If England dance down outside off and whip it through mid-wicket, don’t stop bowling that ball. But England’s attacking instincts led to Australia suffering from amnesia.”
Australia’s struggles at Old Trafford – and the potential for an epic series decider at The Oval had England won this time out – was a widespread theme.
Writing for the BBC, Stephan Shemilt put it brilliantly: “Australia were on the rack. A frazzled mess of baggy green. A decider at The Oval, the greatest celebration of Test cricket this country had ever known, was so close we could taste it.
“And then it was gone. Washed away, drip by drip, in the Old Trafford rain.”
The disappointment at the anti-climactic finish was shared by Atherton in the Times: “What a terrible way it was for this Ashes above all, which has enthralled, entertained and captivated us every inch of the way, to finish, thus denying us a grandstand finish.
“The first three games ebbed and flowed with victories decided on the finest of margins, outcomes uncertain to the very end.
“Although this fourth Test was totally one-sided, it retained a small sense of uncertainty as a brief stoppage during the late morning raised false hopes for a proper ending, but it was not to be.
“Even for Australia, one imagines a sense of anti-climax which may have impinged upon their celebrations.”
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Regardless of the outcome of the Test – and Australia retaining the Ashes – England’s Bazball approach has delivered a truly thrilling contest.
Atherton wrote: “There are those who will point to the missed opportunities at Edgbaston, especially, which mean the Ashes remain in Australia’s grasp for another 2½ years. Instead of that lingering regret being the strongest reaction, think first where England were two winters ago in Hobart, a shell of a side that played with no conviction or belief.
“The transformation since has been remarkable and even though “Bazball” will not get its affirmation with an Ashes win, the country has a team of which to be proud.”
Oliver Holt wrote in the Daily Mail: “An unsatisfactory, deeply dispiriting end to England’s hopes of producing a fightback for the ages will not change the fact that this has been a series that has captured the country’s attention and brought cricket in England into a new age of entertainment and thrill.”
England captain Ben Stokes spoke on the same lines after the match, despite his disappointment.
“It’s an incredible honour to lead this team and I said in the dressing room before that the rewards for your work isn’t what you get, it’s what you become and what we have managed to become is a team people will remember,” he said.
“I said before the series I want this team to be remembered for playing a game that people always talk about, I think regardless of how the series turns out people will always talk about this.”
But there has been plenty of criticism of the rules that deny the teams an opportunity to conclude a match, with multiple experts calling for a reserve day to prevent washouts like this.
David Lloyd, yet another former England captain, wrote in the Daily Mail: “If we lose a full day’s play or have less than 30 overs in a day, we should have a reserve day.
“Having worked in TV, I know they’ll all come back and say it’s logistics and a nightmare with hotels and all that, but the frank truth is that we have now been robbed of a grand occasion at The Oval.”
Oliver Brown agreed, writing for The Telegraph: “With the ICC mandating a minimum three-day gap between Tests, there was, ultimately, no extra time for this match to be completed. What a senseless call. And what a bleak, disheartening way for this precious rite of summer to be concluded.”
Bleak and disheartening perhaps, but Australia can still be proud.
“It’s a bit of a strange one,” captain Pat Cummins said. “As a group (we’re) proud that we’ve retained the Ashes. But it’s, you know, the back of not our greatest week.
“It feels like good that we‘ve won the Ashes, sorry, retained the Ashes, but we know we’ve got a fair bit of work to do for next week.”
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