Ultimate Test cricket prize remains with the holders after third game is drawn.
England captain Alastair Cook praised his side’s resilience as they just did enough to secure a draw with Australia in the third Test at Old Trafford that saw them retain the Ashes.
England, set 332 to win after Australia captain Michael Clarke declared on his side’s overnight 172 for seven, collapsed to 37 for three on Monday’s final day in Manchester, with Cook’s exit for a duck sparking the slump.
But rain meant only 94 minutes’ play was possible Monday and, with England having won the first two Tests at Trent Bridge and Lord’s, the draw meant Cook’s men had retained the Ashes at 2-0 up with two to play.
It’s been a bit of a strange day, but you’ve got to look at it over 14 days,” said Cook.
“If you’d said 14 days ago ‘it will rain on the last day at Old Trafford, but you’ll have retained the Ashes after three games’, I’d have snapped your hand off,” the opening batsman added.
“The England dressing-room is a pretty good place to be at the moment.”
But Cook insisted there would be no let-up even though the Ashes had been secured. “Now we want to go and win the series,” he said.
At Trent Bridge, the combination of an Ian Bell century and James Anderson’s 10-wicket haul helped England win the first Test by a nailbiting 14 runs.
Then came England’s colossal 347 run-win in the second Test at Lord’s, again featuring a hundred from Bell and Joe Root’s memorable 180 plus nine wickets from off-spinner Graeme Swann.
But it was Kevin Pietersen, England’s star batsman and one of the outstanding players of his generation, who produced the key individual performance for the hosts at Old Trafford with an innings of 113 that ensured they avoided the follow-on.
It was trumped by Clarke’s 187 in the tourists’ first innings 527 for seven declared but a combination of the weather and England’s grim determination meant not even the Australia captain could take his team to victory in Manchester.
“We showed a lot of fighting character to get through this game,” said Cook.
“We might not have played our best cricket, but we’re proving we’re quite a hard side to beat.”
However, Cook was quick to acknowledge the value of Pietersen to the side after the South Africa-born batsman, who passed a late fitness test following a calf injury, surpassed Graham Gooch as England’s most prolific batsman in all international cricket.
“He’s become England’s leading run-scorer; he’s a great player,” said Cook.
“Great players stand up when you need them and that was a great innings.”
Reflecting on the match as a whole, Cook said: “We didn’t play our best game. But Australia put us under pressure and they should be given a lot of credit for the way they played.
“We fought extremely hard, especially in the first innings – getting past the follow-on was crucial. So I can’t complain on how we handled the situation.
“We’ve found ourselves in situations like this over the last couple of years.
“The last Test match in New Zealand when Matt Prior batted fantastically well, in Nagpur (in India) when we batted pretty much 150 overs and only lost three wickets, so we knew we had the experience to get ourselves out of it.
“Whether we would have done (without the rain), I don’t know.”