Australia's Marnus Labuschagne celebrates reaching 100
Australia's Marnus Labuschagne celebrates reaching 100 on day four of the fourth Ashes Test match between England and Australia at Old Trafford cricket ground in Manchester, on July 22, 2023. Image Credit: REUTERS

Manchester: England’s prospects of leveling the Ashes series were just about alive after Joe Root claimed the only wicket of a rain-ruined fourth day at Old Trafford on Saturday.

Just 30 overs were possible during a gloomy afternoon, with the morning and evening sessions wiped out by the weather, as Australia finished 61 runs behind on 214-5 in its second innings.

With the forecast dreadful again for the fifth and final day, England badly needed to make inroads but hit a brick wall as Marnus Labuschagne converted his overnight 44 into a vital 111.

Labuschagne has had a lean series by his own high standards but stepped up for his side to nudge them closer to the draw that would guarantee the urn joins them on the flight back to Australia.

At 2-1 down, England needs to find a way through the showers to square the ledger and force a decider at the Oval next week.

Solid stand of 103 runs

Labuschagne shared a 103-run stand with Mitch Marsh as the duo threatened to shut the door completely.

Root made the most of an unexpected role with the ball to land an important blow. England was using the part-time spinner only due to bad light, with the umpires deciding the visibility deteriorated too much for the seamers to operate. Root's unpredictable style added a new threat to an attack that had fallen flat in tricky conditions.

England's pace unit was neutralized by the damp outfield, which softened up the ball and wrecked its chances of getting it to swing.

With first-choice spinner Moeen Ali looking out of sorts as he struggled to find any rhythm, Root took it upon himself to press the issue.

He served up a variety of different deliveries, getting some to kick and holding others back to gain drift.

He almost had Labuschagne on 93 when he sent one down seam up and shaped it away, but a thick edge sailed hard and fast past Zak Crawley at slip.

Labuschagne landed blows of his own, launching Root for two consecutive sixes over wide long-on, and made his way to three figures for just the second time on foreign soil and the 11th time overall.

Crowd celebrate Labuschagne's wicket

There were just four overs left when Labuschagne stepped back in his crease and shaped to cut Root on a tight line around off stump. Jonny Bairstow did well to hold the edge after juggling it. Labuschagne's unsuccessful review earned him an extra send-off from a crowd which waited all day for something to celebrate.

He left Marsh to carry on the fight with 31 from 107 deliveries, a watchful knock that saw him shelve his natural attacking instincts.

Root mustered a half-chance against the allrounder late on, but Harry Brook was unable to grab a fiercely tricky one-handed catch at short leg.

With Cameron Green joining Marsh at the crease, Australia will feel it has enough to withstand whatever England can throw at them on day five and perhaps creep into a lead of their own.

Seamers had a tough time

England’s seamers had a tough time of it, with the quartet of James Anderson, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood and Stuart Broad laboring without luck before being withdrawn by the officials.

With no real demons in the pitch, precious little sign of low bounce, and a ball that died a little every time it was stroked into the wet grass, it took Wood’s pace to conjure anything out of the ordinary.

He cranked it up to 93 mph (150 kph) in a bid to take conditions out of the equation, but the closest he came to making it tell was a nasty blow to Labuschagne's finger.