The weather was the winner at Old Trafford as the fourth Test was abandoned as a draw without a ball being bowled on Sunday, meaning Australia achieved their first target of retaining the Ashes.
England will be mightily disappointed after dominating the match, knowing that they needed to win the last two Tests to regain the Ashes.
There had been a very small window of opportunity to force the win on the fourth day with a break in the bad weather allowing 30 overs of play, but the hosts were unable to capitalise as Australia proved why they are currently the best team in the world with some solid, defensive batting to dampen any home optimism.
The job was still not done of course, but a dismal forecast for Sunday came to fruition with no play possible as the rain lashed down in Manchester, forcing the eventual abandonment of the fourth Test as a draw.
That means England can no longer win the Ashes back, but they can still salvage a draw in the series when they go to the Oval for the fifth Test that starts on Thursday.
|Fifth Ashes Test
|Kia Oval, London
|Thursday, 27th July 2023
|How to watch
|Sky Sports Main Event, Sky Sports Cricket
|England 13/10, Draw 11/4, Australia
England left themselves in a huge hole by losing the first two Tests, and they had never come from 2-0 down to win an Ashes series before, but their thrilling three-wicket win at Headingley had given them the confidence of pulling off the great escape.
Admittedly, all of the first three Tests could have gone either way, but England had the momentum going into the Old Trafford encounter and were not going to let it go easily.
After winning a fourth consecutive toss, Stokes put the Aussies into bat and might have expected a little bit more from his bowlers, although dismissing the tourists for 317 was a decent enough return.
However, the manner in which England took apart the Australian attack suggested that they only had one thing on their minds, and that was to get the win before the weather came.
Zak Crawley's brilliant 189 off just 182 balls set a potential victory up beautifully, with the Kent opener more than ably supported by Moeen Ali (54), Joe Root (84), Harry Brook (61) and Ben Stokes (51).
And the stage was set for Jonny Bairstow to smash an unbeaten 99, which included four sixes and 10 fours, to give the hosts a very healthy 275-run lead, with their mammoth total of 592 being scored at more than 5.5 runs per over.
Mark Wood was back at it late on day three as he took three wickets to help reduce Australia to 113-4 by the close, still trailing the hosts by 162 runs.
The Baggy Greens showed their mettle in the limited play on day four, while the weather did the rest as the match could not reach a conclusion.
Although the fourth Test ended in a draw, the momentum remains with England going into the fifth and final Test later this week, and the confidence should be oozing through their batting line-up.
Six of their top seven passed the half-century mark, with Crawley going on to score the big hundred while Bairstow was agonisingly stranded one short of a century, and the destructive nature of the innings throughout means that the Australians are under big pressure to respond.
The Aussies have of course been denied the services of Nathan Lyon, but opted to forego front-line spin altogether by dropping Todd Murphy, yet England were able to boss whoever had the ball in hand. That arguably could lead to more changes for the tourists as they look to secure their first series victory on these shores since 2001.
Going into the match at Old Trafford, one or two Aussie batters might just have been feeling the spotlight burning that little bit more. Weirdly, they appeared to deal with England perhaps a little better than they did at Headingley, and the frustrations will be that they didn't score more in their first innings as they almost all got at least a start.
David Warner got more time in the middle with cameo knocks of 32 and 28, although the big winner was Marnus Labuschagne scoring big in both innings to finally stamp his class on the series.
The 29-year-old made 51 in the first innings before batting beautifully for his first century in England in his second effort, scoring 111 as he calmly took the sting out of England's pacemen as the hosts went for the win.
Having been denied the services of Ollie Pope through injury, England were arguably searching for a line-up in the last couple of Tests.
However, with Moeen Ali striking a fine half century at Old Trafford batting at three, it remains unlikely that anything will be changing on a selection front, with England having been in the driving seat throughout the fourth Test.
And of course, under the leadership of Stokes and Brendon McCullum, as well as the series position, there will be no let up in their attacking intent on the field of play, with England needing to win to salvage a 2-2 draw.
Australia potentially have more questions to answer, but there is no pressure on them to force the issue as a draw will do as they look to end their series drought in England.
Given what happened at Old Trafford, it is worth having a little look at the weather and the early forecasts suggest that there will be some rain to worry about, with the opening day seemingly most in danger.
Any time lost will of course suit Australia more than England as they simply look to avoid defeat, although England have already won a curtailed Test at Headingley, and will continue trying to progress a game quickly, one way or another, as that is the way they do things now.