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Warner, Smith and rain stall England’s push for victory

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Pint-sized Ashes: Rain frustrates England

Rain halted England’s push for victory on the fourth day of the fourth Ashes Test in Melbourne.

Australia were 103-2, still 61 behind, when bad weather intervened for the second and final time to wipe 43.1 overs off the day midway through the afternoon.

The home side had been 65-2, before David Warner, who made an unbeaten 40, and captain Steve Smith, with 25 not out, watchfully repelled some probing England bowling.

During England’s time in the field, an Australian television station carried pictures that it claimed showed James Anderson digging his nail into the ball.

Anderson had earlier been dismissed by the first delivery of the day to conclude England’s first innings at 491.

That left Alastair Cook undefeated on his overnight 244, making him the first England opener to carry his bat in a Test for 20 years.

Barring any further rain – the forecast for the final day is much clearer – England still have time to push for a first win in Australia since 2011, but they need to conjure a way of taking eight more wickets on an unresponsive pitch.

The home side have already regained the Ashes by winning the first three Tests, but their chances to earn a second successive home whitewash are all but over.

England’s losing streak down under looks set to end at eight matches – they have never before lost nine consecutive Tests in Australia.

Play will start half an hour earlier at 23:00 GMT on Friday.

James Anderson and David Warner<!–

David Warner (right) has struck only three fours in two hours and 20 minutes at the crease

Australia dig in

The usually aggressive Warner, who struck a 130-ball century in the first innings, crawled to the slowest score in excess of 30 of his Test career.

On a surface that has lost almost all of its pace and bounce, England tried to get the ball into a state where it would reverse swing, with a little success.

That had nothing to do with Cameron Bancroft inside-edging Chris Woakes on to his own stumps for 27 – Australia’s fourth drag-on of the match – but may have helped Anderson find the edge of Usman Khawaja’s bat.

With Australia still 99 behind, Warner was joined by the similarly obdurate Smith, captain and his deputy almost shotless in the face of the accuracy of England’s fast bowlers. Their first 100 balls together yielded only 21 runs.

The moisture from the first, 30-minute, rain-delay dampened the ball and hampered England’s quest for reverse, while Australia were just starting to score more freely when the bad weather made its second, terminal intervention.

Still, the prior lack of intent to push the score along and the size of the deficit that remains would leave Australia in huge trouble if England take early wickets on Saturday morning.

England in ball-tampering row?

Umpire Kumar Dharmasena and England captain Joe Root<!–

Umpire Kumar Dharmasena and England captain Joe Root inspect the ball

England’s efforts to get the ball to move through the air often involved fielders throwing it into the turf in a bid to rough one side up.

With their tactics clear, TV pictures zoomed in on Anderson when he was working on the quarter-seam.

Local media accused England’s all-time leading wicket-taker of tampering, although there was no suggestion that the umpires were unhappy with his actions and the ball was not changed.

The TV pictures were by no means evidence of tampering. Anderson was using his left thumb on the shiny side – in theory, the wrong side to alter if you are looking for reverse swing – and could have been cleaning the ball, smoothing it, or removing something that had come loose.

After play, England coach Trevor Bayliss said the umpires had told him his side have “nothing to worry about”, but the officials have spoken to both sides about intentionally throwing the ball into the ground.

The Laws of Cricket state: “If the umpires consider that the condition of the ball has been unfairly changed by a member or members of either side, they shall ask the captain of the opposing side if he/she would like the ball to be replaced.”

In November 2016, South Africa captain Faf du Plessis was fined for shining the ball whilst eating a sweet during the second Test against Australia in Hobart.

One ball for Cook to make history

After the magnitude of Cook’s double century and the raucous entertainment of his 100-run stand with Stuart Broad on Thursday, the conclusion of England’s innings on the fourth morning was an anti-climax.

Indeed, all Cook did was put his pads on, walk to the middle and watch from the other end as Anderson fended a Pat Cummins bouncer to short leg.

That, however, was enough for the former captain to add another piece of his history to his 151-Test, 11,956-run career.

Not only did Cook become the first England opener to carry his bat since Michael Atherton against New Zealand in Christchurch in 1997, but he is the first player to do so in an England-Australia Test since Geoffrey Boycott at Perth in 1979.

His 244 not out is the highest score by any player carrying his bat in a Test and is a record for a visiting player in an MCG Test, beating Sir Viv Richard’s 208 for West Indies.

The Essex man has been on the field for every delivery of the first four days. If he takes part in all of the action on day five, he will have been involved in the entirety of a Test for the third time in his career.

‘It’s going to be a nipper’ – what they said

England coach Trevor Bayliss: “We saw in the first innings that we can take enough wickets reasonably quickly. We have 98 overs, more than enough time to force a result if we play well.”

Australia all-rounder Mitchell Marsh on BT Sport: “We are in a reasonable position. We have got a big day ahead and we have to bat pretty much all of the overs tomorrow. Hopefully we can come out with a draw.”

Former England captain Michael Vaughan on Test Match Special: “England have all the cards going into the last day but they will have to take every opportunity.

“If we get 98 overs, England might be in for a 100-run chase at the end of the day in 20 overs. It is going to be a nipper.”

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