During the continuous rains on day four at Emirates Old Trafford, the England locker room watched the Open at Hoylake.


It should come as no surprise that a golf-crazed England locker room spent the time during the incessant rains on day four at Emirates Old Trafford watching the Open at Hoylake. And, while this was primarily a group of people enjoying their hobby while their day jobs were put on hold, there was some valuable crossover.

Except for a brief period between 2.42 p.m. and 5 p.m., when they were able to get on the field for 30 overs, every player and coach had their weather apps open on their phones or laptops while pent up in the home dressing room. However, the television displays provided them with the most useful visual signals.

While umbrellas remained open in Manchester for the majority of the day, the sight of them being closed some 47 miles away at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club offered promise, given that the rain was coming from the west. The Open final round will almost certainly return to television on Sunday, but with the next band of rain rolling down from the north, England may have to find other reasons to be optimistic. Their window of chance is shrinking as they look for five more wickets to prevent Australia from retaining the urn with one match remaining. In their second inning, the tourists are 214 for five, losing by 61 runs.

“It was nice; the golf was on,” England batting coach Marcus Trescothick remarked. “It’s obviously in the right direction, so when the brollies went down over there, we were a little bit more hopeful we might get a bit of a break in it.” Trescothick was significantly less optimistic about the outlook for day five: “Rain, unfortunately.”

Those 30 overs were more than England had anticipated. Australia’s 101-run contribution narrowed the lead to 61, but the loss of Marnus Labuschagne for 111, his first century of the series, means the tail is now only two wickets away.

Even that portion of gameplay came with conditions. The umpires judged after 17 overs that the light was too bad for England to continue with their quicks when Ben Stokes tried to return to Mark Wood from the James Anderson end. It was a particular setback for England, considering that Wood would have been armed with a harder replacement ball, given that the original had been changed the previous over after losing shape due to moisture picked up from the damp outfield.

That ball had been helpful to England on Friday evening, especially Wood, who had been getting some useful reverse-swing, allowing him to take three for 17 from seven overs. England’s fielders were also dissatisfied that Labuschagne was involved in the ball alteration. In the end, James Anderson bowled only one over at pace with the replacement.

Just as it appeared that Moeen Ali and Joe Root were bowling in tandem, the latter struck to dismiss Labuschagne, who was caught behind attempting a cut. It was first called out on the field before DRS showed a spike since the ball clearly nicked the bat. The hitter had previously enjoyed a life when he edged a surprise away-swinger from Root that nearly knocked Zak Crawley’s head off at first slip before sprinting away for four to boost Labuschagne’s batting average to 97.

Root was also on the verge of dismissing Marsh on 31 when the allrounder inside-edged to Harry Brook, but a difficult chance was turned down at short leg. Then, off the final delivery of the day, Root and England thought they had snagged Green at first slip via an inside edge off the pad, but the replay was unsuccessful.

“Isn’t he a little bit of a golden arm?” Trescothick remarked on Root, who has now been dismissed 58 times in Tests, including 13 since Stokes took over. “He just has that ability to come in and bowl two or three overs here and there, a little spell here and there, and pick up one or two wickets, and he has a good knack for doing that.”

“We know how good he (Labuschagne) is as a player. On a good pitch, it’s a big, big player out of the way. So we still have some work to do; it’s not going to be a case of showing up and the ball swinging around with a new ball all over the place, nipping around, and we’ll roll them over in ten overs. I think we’ll need a little more time and effort than that, but it’s one fewer person we have to knock over, which is essential.”

England knows the importance of making the most of what it has.

Marnus Labuschagne and Mitchell Marsh put up a good fight against James Anderson.

Trescothick has no reservations if the majority of what they get from Day 5, or even all of it, comes under similar conditions. While some may object to the timing of the bad-light decision, especially given the small change in visibility, England understands that they must make the most of what they are given.

“First and foremost, we were sitting on the balcony, and we didn’t think it had deteriorated sufficiently to prevent the seamers from bowling,” Trescothick explained. “The umpires in the middle decided it was too dark, and they had no choice.” It didn’t feel like it from where we were, but we’re only 50 or 60 meters from the pitch’s edge.

“And tomorrow, if that’s all we’ve got and all we’re given, that’s what we’ll take.” Any opportunity to be out in the middle tomorrow, we will seize with both hands.”

On the other side of the fence, Labuschagne has advised Australia to be ready to react to whatever situation arises on Sunday, even if the rain is very much in their favor. A similar application to Saturday’s would go a long way toward protecting the urn and giving them a chance to win the Ashes away from home for the first time since 2001.

“As players, you have to be prepared to play, and I think we saw that we took the game on,” he explained. “We were aware of the work at hand. We knew it wouldn’t be a long day, but we had to be ready for that two-hour shift. It all boils down to retaining the Ashes for us now; whatever time we have left tomorrow, there is only one option: bat out the day. The weather will have a role, but I believe there will be some play.”

Labuschagne was reasonably skeptical about the likelihood of batting on into a lead and giving England a chase.

“No way, no how, zero chance.” As in, how do you get ahead? We’re sixty minutes late!

“I mean, if Mitch gets going, if Mitch and Green put on an absolutely incredible partnership, I think we’ll just let it play out and get bowled out when it happens.” I don’t think we’ll give England a chance; I think that’s precisely what they want.”

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