Australia retained the Ashes after rain prevented any play on the final day of the fourth test against England at Old Trafford on Sunday after weeks of blockbuster entertainment in the closest and most exciting Ashes contest since 2005.

Australia has an insurmountable 2-1 lead with one test left. England needed to win the five-match series to take the urn off holder Australia.

A shootout for glory in the fifth test at the Oval starting Thursday was on the cards if there had been enough time for England to convert its dominance in Manchester with Australia 214-5 in its second innings and 61 runs behind the hosts.

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The fifth-day washout handed the urn to Australia as the most pessimistic forecasts came to pass and relentless rain meant the players never made it to the middle in a miserable weekend for England. Only 30 overs had been possible on Saturday.

England arrived Sunday needing five wickets to get over the line but left without a ball being bowled.

England has all but eliminated the concept of the draw since captain Ben Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum ushered in the fast-scoring Bazball era more than a year ago, but for the first time in 17 games at the helm conditions finally left them with no cards to play.

Instead, dreams of a stirring comeback to beat its rivals for the first time since 2015 were swept away.

Australia was more than happy to finish the job in the pavilion rather than out on the pitch, but any post-match celebrations may be slightly muted after this narrow escape.

There is still plenty to play for, with Australia bidding to claim a first outright win on English soil in 22 years while their opponents are seeking to level the series at 2-2 and preserve an undefeated streak under Stokes’ leadership.

England had made all the running here, piling up a 275-run first-innings advantage and taking five of the 10 wickets it needed to finish the job before the skies turned against them.

Five of the last six sessions were lost without a ball bowled. The momentum of the series had swung when England captain Ben Stokes embarked on a six-hitting rampage in the fourth innings of the second test at Lord’s, apparently sparked into life by Alex Carey’s controversial stumping of Jonny Bairstow, and although his magnificent century was not enough to save that game, it set things on a new path.

England won the third test at Headingley in relatively comfortably fashion, the first of three must-win games and spent the first three days on the other side of the Pennines establishing an even more dominant position at Old Trafford.

Zak Crawley’s outrageous 189 and an unbeaten 99 from Bairstow saw them pile up 592, England’s highest total against Australia in a dozen years, and a three-wicket blast from Mark Wood tightened the hosts’ grip on the third evening as Australia stumbled to 113-4.

That was as good as it got for England, with Labuschagne making 111 and Mitch Marsh batting through what became the final session of the match to keep Australian heads above water.




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