England went close to pulling off an unexpected victory over Australia in the fifth and final Test on Sunday, but had to settle for a draw when the umpires stopped play because of bad light.
Play came to a halt in the gloom of a London evening at The Oval with England agonizingly close to victory, needing just 21 runs from four overs.
Set 227 in 44 overs after a sporting declaration by Australia skipper Michael Clarke in an unlikely bid to force a result, England’s Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott set England on course with a rapid 77-run partnership.
England were 206-5 when play was stopped after a dramatic day.
The 447 runs scored on Sunday are comfortably the most ever scored on the last day of a Test match.
Pietersen set The Oval alight with a half-century from 36 balls.
A day that started half an hour late and which was heading toward a dull draw ended in a 3-0 Ashes series victory for the hosts. England were presented with the tiny pottery urn — said to contain the Ashes of English cricket — awarded to the winners of cricket’s most famous rivalry.
The next defense starts in November in Brisbane, Australia.
Australia scored 492-9 declared in their first innings before the game was shortened by rain that prevented any play on the fourth day on Saturday.
“Fair play to Australia for pushing the game on,” England captain Alastair Cook said. “It made for a really good spectacle. I’m very proud of the way the lads have done it.”
England resumed on the last day at 247-5 and added quick runs through Matt Prior (47) and Ian Bell (45) before they were dismissed for 377.
Clarke decided on a risky strategy of trying to tempt Cook into accepting a challenge by thrashing 111-6 in 23 overs and declaring at tea, setting England 227.
Clarke may have been hoping for some more runs, but Stuart Broad snatched four wickets to slow Australia’s run rate as Clark threw caution to the wind.
In the last innings, Root fell for 11 with the score on 22, but Cook and Trott batted aggressively in a partnership of 64 before Cook was trapped leg before wicket by James Faulkner.
It was Faulkner’s fifth wicket of the day — he took four in England’s first innings.
The teams next play a series of limited-overs internationals before Australia fly home in the middle of next month after three-and-a-half months in England to prepare for another five-Test Ashes series.
There is also a possibility England may be without coach Andy Flower, who has been credited with their recent successes. He refused to comment on a newspaper report saying he planned to step down.
“We’ve got to enjoy the moment and not look too far ahead. We have to enjoy this evening,” Flower said.
It is difficult to say which team will be more optimistic in Australia. England have been the clear victors in the big moments during the series, but Australia have run them closer than the 3-0 series scoreline suggests.
At Old Trafford in Manchester, rain played a big part in foiling an Australia victory. The first Test win for England was by just 14 runs. The second match at Lord’s was a thumping 347-run win.
With those two wins and the draw at Old Trafford, the Ashes were lost to Australia.
Ian Bell, voted player of the series, was the difference in a low-scoring fourth match in Durham, showing that it was the batsmen who made the difference.
While Australia’s bowlers, led by Peter Siddell and a Ryan Harris who managed to stay fit, were consistently dangerous and challenging, the batsmen were a major disappointment. Clarke managed a big innings of 187, but very few others impressed.
Usman Khawaja only managed 114 in six innings before he was dropped. Ed Cowan lasted just one game. Shane Watson scored 418 in 10 innings, including a century in the last Test, but Australia could not score runs when they really needed them.
The batting lineup became stronger as the tour wore on. David Warner had an astonishing tour. He was suspended after punching rival opener Root in a bar at the start, was banished to a tour in Zimbabwe, but returned quickly as Australia’s form collapsed on England’s seaming wickets, where reverse swing is commonplace. Warner introduced solidity to the batting, as did Chris Rogers.
England bowlers James Anderson and Stuart Broad have mastered the art of reverse swing, but will not find conditions as friendly on the hard, dry wickets in Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide.
Broad is likely to face hostility on and off the field in Australia, whose coach Darren Lehmann described the England player’s refusal to walk after clearly edging a ball to slip as “blatant cheating” in a light-hearted radio interview.
Lehmann was fined about US$3,000 for the comments.
The Broad decision was just one of the glaring umpiring mistakes in the series.
England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Giles Clarke was angry that the umpires took the players off for bad light, spoiling a thrilling climax to the game.
“It’s totally unsatisfactory the way the game ended — the rules are clearly unacceptable and I expect ICC [International Cricket Council] chief executive David Richardson to change it at the next ICC chief executives’ meeting,” Clarke said.