Australia, 2-0 down in the five-match series and needing to win this match to stand any chance of regaining the Ashes, were 172 for seven in their second innings — a lead of 331 runs — when umpires Marais Erasmus and Tony Hill called a halt at 4.26pm (1526GMT) on Sunday.
Subsequent rain prevented the match resuming and play was officially abandoned at 5.38pm, with officials — much criticised for their implementation of the Decision Review System this series — coming under scrutiny again.
Australia captain Michael Clarke, 30 not out, was clearly furious at being told to go off for bad light in a situation where any stoppage increased England’s chances of securing the draw that would see them retain the Ashes.
Although the floodlights were on, the umpires decided conditions were too dangerous to continue when it looked as if fast-medium bowler Stuart Broad was about to be brought back into the attack.
“We try and play as long as we can. We were able to stay out a heck of a lot longer under the lights — but when we started losing it (tracking the ball) completely from square leg, we gave the skipper (England captain Alastair Cook) the option to use spin, and he didn’t want to do that,” said New Zealand’s Hill.
It used to be the case the umpires would ‘offer’ the light to the batsmen to see if they wanted to continue or not.
But a change to the regulations in October 2010 left the issue solely in the hands of the umpires after concerns had been raised the old system was unfair to the fielding side.
“The playing conditions changed a few years ago so it’s now our decision,” said Erasmus, whose joint interview with Hill on Sky television was booed by angry fans when replayed over the giant screens at Old Trafford.
“For a while there England’s fielders were asking about the light and the possibility when they bat.
“It was fine by then but it kept dropping, dropping, dropping.
“Eventually we told the captain (Cook) to bowl spin which eventually he decided not to. That pushed our hand because it’s a safety issue.”
Clarke had a prolonged conversation with South African official Erasmus as he and batting partner Ryan Harris stayed in the middle while England walked off.
Eventually, the Australians followed their opponents into the dressing-room.
With rain forecast for Monday, questions were asked as to why Clarke hadn’t declared, especially as the most any side have made to win in the fourth innings of an Old Trafford Test is England’s 294 for four against New Zealand in 2008.
England complicated Australia’s victory bid by avoiding the follow-on earlier Sunday after resuming on 294 for seven following Kevin Pietersen’s impressive 113 on Saturday.
They needed 34 runs to make Australia bat again and the eighth wicket duo of Matt Prior (30) and Stuart Broad (32) knocked them off with a flurry of boundaries in an eighth-wicket stand of 58.
The pair then combined to remove Australia opener Chris Rogers for just 12 when fast-medium bowler Broad took the outside edge and wicketkeeper Prior, diving in front of first slip, held a good catch.
Renowned one-day batsman Warner, repeatedly booed by home fans after missing the first two Tests of this series for his bar-room attack on England’s Joe Root, was promoted to open alongside Rogers as Australia sought quick runs.
The left-hander made 41 off 57 balls before he he was caught in the deep by Root off seamer Tim Bresnan before Usman Khawaja (24) was bowled round his legs by off-spinner Graeme Swann.
Regular opener Shane Watson then uppercut Bresnan straight to Pietersen at third man before a mix-up saw Steven Smith needlessly run out for a run-a-ball 19 after he’d driven both Bresnan and Swann for six.
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