MANCHESTER (AFP) – Australia captain Michael Clarke said drawing the Test series with England would still be a notable achievement after dreams of regaining the Ashes were washed away in Manchester.
The tourists had to win at Old Trafford to regain the urn and were in a commanding position as England collapsed to 37 for three on Monday's final day after Clarke's declaration left them needing 332 to win.
But then rain prevented any further play and the match was abandoned as a draw with England, now 2-0 up with just two to play in the five-match series, assured of retaining the Ashes after wins by 14 runs and a mammoth 347 runs in the first two Tests at Trent Bridge and Lord's respectively.
Nevertheless this result stopped a run of six successive Test defeats for Australia, their worst in 29 years, and spared them the shame of equalling the national record losing streak of seven set long ago by the teams of 1885-88.
And it meant Clarke's men could still end this series all square at 2-2.
The last time an Ashes series finished level was in England in 1972 and then Australia captain Ian Chappell credited that 2-2 campaign as the springboard for the several successful years that followed.
Now Clarke wants to follow suit, insisting he still has ambitions in this series that could yet prove a morale-booster for his side ahead of the start of the next Ashes series in Australia in November.
"If we can level the series we will take a lot of confidence back to Australia," said Clarke, man-of-the-match at Old Trafford for his brilliant first innings 187.
"I'm confident if we play the type of cricket that we have through the four days here that we will give it a real good shake."
The teams have just a few days' respite before the fourth Test, the first Ashes clash to be staged at north-east county Durham's headquarters in Chester-le-Street, gets underway on Friday.
This could prove particularly tough for Australia's seamers, with the tourists already a man down in that department after James Pattinson was ruled out of the rest of the tour after Lord's with a stress fracture of the back.
Ryan Harris bowled impressively at Old Trafford but, if selected at Chester-le-Street, the 33-year-old will be appearing in three straight Tests for just the second time in his career -- the only previous occasion was when he broke down in the 2010/11 Boxing Day Test at Melbourne, a match England won by an innings to retain the Ashes.
"Not bowling much today (Monday) certainly helped them and gave them (the bowlers) a day off," Clarke said. "I'm confident they are in good hands."
For all their vast improvement at Old Trafford, this was the earliest Australia had conceded an Ashes since losing the first three Tests of the 1928/29 series.
"There's no doubt our goal and my goal was to come here and win the Ashes and that hasn't happened. I can guarantee everyone in that changeroom is hurting," said Clarke.
"I think we've shown in this Test match that we are here for the challenge and the fight.
"But in saying that I certainly don't want to take any credit away from England. They outplayed us in the first two Test matches, especially at Lord's."
Indeed, Clarke said Australia being bowled out for just 128 in their first innings at Lord's was as bad a display as their infamous 47 all out against South Africa at Cape Town in 2011.
"The way we batted in the first innings at Lord's hurt me as much as anything has in my career, certainly as captain," Clarke said.
"We got bowled out for 47 against South Africa but at least that wicket was seaming and swinging. I thought the Lord's wicket was a fantastic batting wicket in the first innings."