England, set a target of 227 to win after Australia captain Michael Clarke’s bold declaration, needed 21 more to win off 24 balls with five wickets left when the umpires decided the light, even with the floodlights on, was too dark to continue and ended the match at 7.35pm local time (1835GMT).
The draw meant England, who’d already retained the Ashes, finished the five-match contest as 3-0 winners having triumphed in three successive Test series against Australia for the first time since the 1950s.
Jonathan Trott (59) and Kevin Pietersen (62), who both scored their maiden Test hundreds in Ashes matches at The Oval in 2009 and 2005 respectively, kept England in sight of an improbable win, in a match where they had largely been outplayed, after Clarke closed Australia’s second innings at 111 for six.
This result saw Australia fail to win a single Test in an Ashes series for the first time since their 3-0 loss in England in 1977 and meant they’d failed to win a Test for the ninth match in a row following a 4-0 loss in India earlier this year.
“It was slightly strange but I’m proud of the way the lads played and in the cold light of day we’ve won the Ashes 3-0,” said England captain Alastair Cook at the presentation ceremony.
“It’s very hard as there are certain guidelines in place — if it’s that dark on day three you come off and no-one says anything.”
Clarke added: “We’re here to try and win, credit to England they played well today. It was worth a crack.
“We got outplayed throughout the series and again we couldn’t get over the line today. England deserve a lot of credit for the way they played.”
Cook responded to Clarke’s challenge by taking two fours in the first over of the chase off Ryan Harris.
But Harris removed Joe Root for 11 when he flat-footedly edged an intended cut to wicketkeeper Brad Haddin.
It was a record-breaking catch for Haddin, with his 29th victim of this Ashes seeing him surpass the previous world record for most dismissals by a wicketkeeper in a Test series of 28 set by Australia great Rodney Marsh against England in 1982/83.
England, whose run-rate on Friday had barely risen above two an over, scored 22 runs in two overs, 10 off spinner Nathan Lyon and 12 off debutant seamer James Faulkner, with Trott piercing the legside field for a couple of excellent boundaries.
But a second-wicket stand of 64 ended when Cook was lbw for 34 to left-armer Faulkner, who’d taken four for 51 in England’s first innings 377.
Pietersen came in and clipped Faulkner through mid-wicket for four before driving him wide of mid-off for another boundary.
Suddenly England were eyeing a sensational win, with Pietersen pulling left-arm paceman Mitchell Starc for four.
But Pietersen’s brilliant 55-ball knock featuring 10 fours ended when he was well caught at long-on by David Warner off Ryan Harris.
Trott followed soon afterwards when he was lbw to Faulkner.
But man-of-the-series Ian Bell, who came to the crease having amassed 545 runs during the series at 68.12, including three centuries, lofted Faulkner over mid-off for four.
England got their target down to 36 off the last six overs, with the floodlights now on as fielders struggled to see the ball.
Bell, however, was run out for 17 by bowler Starc’s direct hit in the last significant act of the match before umpires Aleem Dar and Kumar Dharmasena called a halt.
Whereas the old rules previously allowed the umpires to ‘offer’ the light to the batsmen, current regulations state the decision about when to go is “one for the umpires alone to make”.
However, this climax, which saw the umpires booed by a capacity crowd, is bound to lead to questions about the rules as they stand and the fact that, as happened in this match, even when time has been lost, Tests in England never start earlier than 11:00am local time (1000GMT).
Test debutant Chris Woakes was 17 not out as England ended the match on 206 for five.
After Saturday’s fourth day had been washed out totally, England resumed on 247 for four and needing 46 more to avoid the follow-on.
England eventually finished 115 runs behind Australia’s first innings 492 for nine declared.
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