England’s Ashes joy fails to be dampened by the rain

The last-ditch drama may have been absent as England retained the Ashes in the mundane Manchester rain – but the latest accolade for Alastair Cook’s team was hard-earned nonetheless.

England's Alastair Cook signs autographs after the Third Investec Ashes test match ended in a draw

That was how the captain himself certainly saw it after his team were spared the ordeal of eking out seven remaining wickets for another 72.3 overs to retain their 2-0 lead with two matches to go.

Cook, out of the equation alongside Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen in the 95 minutes which were available between the downpours to Australia’s bowlers yesterday morning, conceded he could not be sure England would have got out of this one.

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They did just about enough, though, in the third Investec Test dominated by the tourists to hold on for a precious stalemate – with that help from the weather – and claim reward for earlier endeavours in victories at Trent Bridge and Lord’s.

England's Alastair Cook signs autographs after the Third Investec Ashes test match ended in a draw

“It’s been a bit of a strange day, but you’ve got to look at it over 14 days,” said Cook.

“If you’d said 14 days ago ‘it will rain on the last day at Old Trafford, but you’ll have retained the Ashes after three games’, I’d have snapped your hand off.

“The dressing-room is a pretty good place to be at the moment.”

After James Anderson’s 10 wickets helped England sneak a 14-run win in Nottingham and Graeme Swann had bundled out nine at Lord’s – with a hundred each time from Ian Bell and Joe Root’s 180 at HQ – it was time for Pietersen to come up with the goods here.

His first-innings 113 was perhaps not a vintage demonstration of his talents but an example of the will providing a way, and a vital contribution to narrow England’s first-innings deficit.

It was a collective determination, however, which ensured Australian improvements – including captain Michael Clarke’s tour-de-force 187 – were not quite enough to keep the Ashes alive.

“We showed a lot of fighting character to get through this game,” said Cook.

“We might not have played our best cricket, but we’re proving we’re quite a hard side to beat.”

The captain has long known the value of having a game-changer like Pietersen in his side.

Passed fit at the last minute for this match after recovering from a calf strain, the South Africa-born batsman duly surpassed Graham Gooch as England’s most prolific batsman in all international cricket.

“He’s become England’s leading run-scorer; he’s a great player,” said Cook.

“Great players stand up when you need them and that was a great innings.”

It was one too which gave England the breathing space they needed.

Cook said: “We didn’t play our best game. But Australia put us under pressure and they should be given a lot of credit for the way they played.

“We fought extremely hard, especially in the first innings – getting past the follow-on was crucial. So I can’t complain about how we handled the situation.”

As forecast rain bemusingly stayed away, England found themselves in a precarious situation on 37-3 shortly after lunch.

Cook went lbw for a duck to Ryan Harris, Trott was caught-behind down the leg side off the same bowler, and then Pietersen had to go too – with a dash of decision review system controversy thrown in, naturally.

All credible forecasts had predicted a washout, at a ground renowned for them, and thousands of ticket-holders were therefore absent when play got under way only half-an-hour late.

Australia declared overnight to leave England a notional ground-record 332 to win – a distant prospect even before Cook went in the third over without a run on the board. He used up a first review for good measure too after Harris had swung one into his front pad and beaten the forward-defence.

Trott survived by the most marginal ‘umpire’s call’ as Australia also lost their first review on Tony Hill’s not-out lbw verdict, but Harris got his man in his next over.

The near strokeless Joe Root was dropped on four at second slip by Clarke off the last ball of Peter Siddle’s first over, but there was to be no such luck for Pietersen, who appeared aghast when his review after Hill gave him caught-behind driving at Siddle was not overturned via a DRS procedure which contained no Hotspot vindication of the initial decision but audio which corroborated bat-on-ball impact. There was time after lunch for only three more balls, the last kicking alarmingly at Bell from Siddle to strike him a painful blow on the thumb.

Rain returned, terminally, even as Bell was receiving treatment and after the abandonment was confirmed two-and-a-half hours later, Cook was honestly equivocal about England’s lunchtime hopes and fears.

He said: “We’ve found ourselves in situations like this over the last couple of years.

“The last Test match in New Zealand when Matt Prior batted fantastically well, in Nagpur when we batted pretty much 150 overs and only lost three wickets, so we knew we had the experience to get ourselves out of it – whether we would have done, I don’t know.”

Wet weather is ‘welcomed’ by supporters

Manchester’s infamous weather found some new fans yesterday as England retained the Ashes in a downpour at Old Trafford.

In a Test which had seen Australia on top almost all the way, the hosts were under considerable pressure yesterday morning when reduced to 37-3 while needing to bat out the day.

But the weather then intervened to see England end the day with an unassailable 2-0 series lead heading to Durham for the fourth Test on Friday.

“Many times I have cursed the rain in Manchester, but today I would take it home to meet my grandma and marry it,” England spinner Graeme Swann tweeted, while former captain Michael Vaughan – the Yorkshireman who led England to victory in the famous 2005 series – posted a picture of the famous urn and the caption “RAINTAINED”.

If a mid-afternoon abandonment was not the most dramatic way to retain the urn, it did not dampen celebrations in the England dressing room.

“We have retained the Ashes and it feels magnificent!!!” Stuart Broad tweeted.

Kevin Pietersen, whose first-innings century was key to England avoiding defeat and moved him past Graham Gooch as England’s all-time leading run-scorer in internationals, added: “Ashes retained.. Wow! What a feeling.. Outstanding by this team to do it in 3 Tests..

“And.. Thank you for being so nice during this Test! It was an incredibly proud moment when I found out about the record.. More runs to come!”

Sir Ian Botham, who led England to Ashes victory in 1981, had predicted England would win this series and the one to come in Australia later this year by a combined score of 10-0, and admitted he needed to alter his maths now.

“Rain saves Aussies today at Old Trafford so will have to settle for 9 nil.... !! Ashes retained.....3 out of 3......!!” he tweeted.