OLD TRAFFORD — England’s hopes of securing a series-levelling victory in the fourth Ashes Test were held up by the Manchester rain on a dank and damp fourth morning at Old Trafford.
Hours after Australia’s Josh Hazlewood admitted that the tourists were praying for rain over the final two days, the weather gods delivered as the downpours looked to have put paid to any play in the morning session.
On 113 for four in their second innings, still 162 runs short of making England bat again, Australia, 2-1 up in the series, are still in big trouble but the draw that would see them retain the Ashes is now closer thanks to a forecast threatening to wipe out a significant amount of time over the final two days.
England always knew the forecast for this weekend was sketchy. But having taken counsel from the Old Trafford groundstaff, who have a lot more data on local weather patterns than all of the publicly available apps, they were confident they would have enough time to finish the job and set up a winner-takes-all series decider at The Oval next week.
That remains the case and there is a ray of hope that there could be a break in the rain this afternoon that would allow England to make further progress towards victory.
Sunday’s forecast also shows a clear, dry afternoon, meaning the possibility of at least two more sessions is still very much on and if Australia are to save this game they will probably have to bat very well for at least 50 more overs.
Given Cameron Green and Alex Carey are the only recognised batters to come after the fifth-wicket pair of Mitchell Marsh and Marnus Labuschagne, currently sharing an unbeaten stand of five from 4.5 overs, there is much work for the Australians to do.
A lot will also depend on the Old Trafford groundstaff, who will be urged by England to work as efficiently and quickly as possible to get the teams back out whenever the rain relents.
The bad news for England fans is that out of the major international grounds in the country, Old Trafford has one of the worst drainage systems, so may need more time than normal to get conditions fit to play.
The good news is that there should still be enough time for England to get over the line to set up the Ashes finale this captivating series deserves.