Weather frustrates Australia's hopes of Test victory
ENGLAND appeared to move a step closer to retaining the Ashes after bad light ended day four of the third Investec Test against Australia prematurely.
Australia captain Michael Clarke appeared to be left fuming when the umpires ordered the players off at 4.26pm due to the deteriorating conditions.
Clarke was still at the crease, as he helped the tourists into a lead of 331 with three wickets in hand, under the full glare of the Emirates Old Trafford lights.
Despite that umpires Tony Hill and Marais Erasmus determined that, due to safety concerns, play could only continue if England skipper Alastair Cook bowled his spinners.
With England requiring only a draw in this match to retain the Ashes it was therefore unsurprising when Cook replaced off-spinner Graeme Swann with fast bowler Stuart Broad - and in so doing forcing the umpires to send the players off.
"The playing conditions changed a few years ago so it's now our decision," Erasmus told Sky Sports Ashes.
"We try and communicate and let everybody know. For a while there England's fielders were asking about the light and the possibility when they bat.
"It was fine by then but it kept dropping, dropping, dropping.
"Eventually we told the captain to bowl spin which eventually he decided not to. That pushed our hand because it's a safety issue."
Erasmus' assessment drew boos from the crowd after it was broadcast on the big screens at Old Trafford.
But with rain also then beginning to fall half an hour later most of the paying punters opted to file out of the ground before a decision to abandon the day's play, with 32 overs unbowled, was made at 5.38pm.
With further bad weather expected tomorrow an overnight Australia declaration overnight appears likely with the tourists 172 for seven, although whether they will get enough time to bowl England out to keep their Ashes hopes alive now appears out of their hands.
Under the International Cricket Council's playing regulations the umpires can take the players off the field should they feel there is a "foreseeable risk to the safety of any player or umpire".
The umpires had called for the lights to be turned on shortly after lunch in order to prolong proceedings and certainly Australia were happy to continue on.
Clarke was clearly unhappy when play was suspended, and argued the point with both umpires before eventually heading off.
"He (Clarke) asked us why suddenly (the decision was made to go off)," Erasmus said.
"We actually communicated with each other in that particular over so it wasn't a sudden decision.
"We were monitoring the light all the time - probably for the last half and hour.
"It's not just something that we just suddenly decided."
Hill added: "Getting them (the lights) on certainly made a difference out here and we stayed on a lot longer than normal.
"The way we work it at the moment is there is the safety aspect out here.
"When we start losing it completely from square leg then we give the skipper an option, which we did out there, and suggest that we use spin.
"He didn't want to do that."