- Scoreboard / As it happened
- Ashes rain-tained
- Captains confused, but official relationships are good
- Blue Monday as rain saves England
It was 4.39pm on Monday, local time, when the 2013 Ashes were won and lost, or, to be precise, doused. As Leonardo might have said, a Manchester Test match is never finished, only abandoned. When the announcement came over the tannoy, a few hundred patient English supporters cheered from the depths of their sou'-westers. Three or four England players made an appearance on their balcony, looking suitably sheepish, considering a token lap of honour. The Australians stayed dry.
The most animated people on Old Trafford were the ground staff of the Lancashire County Cricket Club, who finally dropped all pretence of neutrality and leapt about the field, punching the air and yahooing. They finally liberated the wicket square from the covers that had protected it from every drop of moisture for weeks, if not months. And then, in a most bizarre yet symbolic moment, amid the steady Manchester rain, they turned on their hose. Never let it be said that all of England cricket, counties and centre, are not pulling in the one direction.
What might have been: Australia's captain Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin survey a gloomy Old Trafford. Photo: AP
Water became decisive when it arrived; up to now it had been decisive for its absence. Pitches haven't been the reason for England's win, but they have determined its manner. Sahara-dry wickets in Nottingham and London produced a contest of reverse swing and spin against bat. These were England's strengths.
They have a master of reverse swing in James Anderson and a fine off-spinner in Graeme Swann. Anderson was the dominant figure at Trent Bridge, Swann at Lord's. Australia's top six batsmen, collectively and individually, could not counter those two bowlers' skills. The other contest, between Australia's bowlers and England's batsmen, can be called a draw.
There had been nothing sinister or clandestine about the English strategy. The Australians expected it and prepared for it and were not good enough to meet it. They did not drop their bundle or their catches, and cannot be compared with some of the rabbles of the past. Australia performed creditably, but England were better.
The pitches in the Ashes series have suited England off-spinner Graeme Swann. Photo: Reuters
That makes it sound fairly simple, mechanical even. Yet the three Tests have shown how much of the difference between the teams is in the mind. In Manchester, where the pitch and England's mentality were prepared for a draw, and Australia were the only team set on winning, the balance altered. England's bowlers looked jaded and their senior top-order batsmen out of form. Their wicketkeeping and fielding was sloppy, their captaincy dull-witted. Australia looked to be the young, vibrant, rising side, the new order.
But does it mean anything? That was why the Blue Monday washout was a pity: we could not find out if Australia had the steel to finish off a live Ashes Test match. There was every indication, from how the bowlers were working a deteriorating wicket, that they would. There were also signs of tension, such as in Michael Clarke's dropped catch at second slip. Could they do it, or would England drive in another nail with one of their escapes? What a shame it was, to have the main question left unanswered.
So England remain psychologically ascendant. The first blows were struck by their bowlers in Australia's first innings. But the knockout was when Brad Haddin was out in the second innings at Trent Bridge. This is no comment on Haddin, whose batting gave Australia hope in the first place. He was no more culpable than Michael Kasprowicz at Edgbaston in 2005 or Jeff Thomson at Melbourne in 1982. But when Haddin and James Pattinson were batting that day, for Australia there was more than the possibility of a freakish win. They were standing at the edge of their Rubicon. The chance came to cross it. They didn't make it. It's a team game with a team mentality, and the 14-run margin in that match was Ashes-winning in its final magnitude.
Third Ashes Test: day five
England's Kevin Pietersen walks from the pitch after losing his wicket, caught by Brad Haddin for 8 off the bowling of Australia's Peter Siddle on the final day of the third Ashes Test series. Photo: AP
Where to from here? Both sides look tired, heading for yet another back-to-back Test. It's too early to conclude anything about which side has momentum heading into the Brisbane Test in late November. Australia have made progress, but it counts for little until they win Test matches, under pressure, when it matters. England have won the Ashes in just 14 days of cricket. The result is conclusive, and really there is little on the line until the mid-point of the Australian summer, when the urn is up for grabs again. If the two sides were listed on the stock market, their prices would have changed little since the start of this series. England's likely win had already been factored in. Australia have shown encouraging signs of development, but their price would only have risen a little. They still have to cross their Rubicon.
One thing is certain about the series in Australia. The pitches will be different. England may still be good enough to win, whatever the conditions, but they will have to find a different way from how they have done it here. The elements will come into play: fire, air, earth, and even a little bit of water.