Early stumps called at Old Trafford | cricket.com.au


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Early stumps called at Old Trafford

Australia's bid to keep the Ashes series alive at Old Trafford has been hindered by rain on day four of the third Ashes Test.

Half an hour after the players were forced off due to bad light, the rain fell anyway in Manchester and stumps was called an hour premature.

Every minute counts for an Australian side who must take 10 wickets and win the match to avoid suffering a third consecutive Ashes series defeat.

Australia were 7-172, leading by 331 runs and with the game balancing on a knife's edge as Australia smashed their way closer and closer to a declaration.

But with 32 overs lost in the day, it's needless to say now England will be batting if and when play resumes on day five.

An Ashes classic is in the making, yet adverse weather looks like cruelly robbing Australia of their chance.

Despite Australian captain Michael Clarke (30 not out) at the crease and clearly desperate to continue batting, bad light forced players off the field at 4.25pm and robbed a capacity crowd of 25,000 spectators of a gripping fourth day continuing.

Australia will need a super effort now to save the series, with England's batsmen set to grind their way to a draw and persistent rain predicted.

Play can't start early on day five, meaning eight overs is the maximum that can be added on at the end of the day.

According to umpire Tony Hill, he and Marais Erasmus' called time because of a danger to player safety, following an hour of badgering from England players.

They gave England captain Alastair Cook the option of bowling spin, but he refused.

However, Hill admitted self-preservation for the umpires was also part of the reasoning.

"Well these days with those bats the ball comes back at a fair speed," he said.

"But ourselves aren't our prime reason for doing anything, it's the players."

With floodlights on for much of the afternoon, former England captain Nasser Hussain described the decision to suspend play as baffling.

"I cannot see how there was a safety issue at all."

As players trudged from the field, a disappointed Clarke remonstrated with Erasmus and Hill for several minutes - but to no avail.

Hill has form in this department. Last year in a match between England and West Indies at Edgbaston, the umpire forced players off because square-leg official Kumar Dharmasena couldn't pick up the ball.

This was despite batsmen Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell having no problem, and the crowd desperate to see some cricket after significant rain delays during the match.

In 2010 the ICC changed their playing condition rules to take bad light decisions out of the hands of the batting team and give complete control to the umpires.

"If at any time the umpires together agree that the conditions of ground, weather or light are so bad that there is obvious and foreseeable risk to the safety of any player or umpire, so that it would be unreasonable or dangerous for play to take place, then they shall immediately suspend play, or not allow play to commence or to restart," the rule reads.

"The decision as to whether conditions are so bad as to warrant such action is one for the umpires alone to make."