Australia captain Michael Clarke was furious after the umpires took the players off the field for bad light in the third Test against England at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Australia, who at 2-0 down in the five-match series had to win this match to stand any chance of regaining the Ashes, were 172 for seven in their second innings -- a lead of 331 runs, when umpires Marais Erasmus and Tony Hill called a halt at 4.26pm (1526GMT) on the fourth day.

Although the floodlights were on, the umpires decided conditions were too dangerous to continue when it looked as if fast-medium bowler Stuart Broad was about to be brought back into the attack 36 minutes after tea.

Had England persisted with off-spinner Graeme Swann the chances are that play would have continued.

"We try and play as long as we can. We were able to stay out a heck of a lot longer under the lights -- but when we started losing it (tracking the ball) completely from square leg, we gave the skipper (England captain Alastair Cook) the option to use spin, and he didn't want to do that," said New Zealand's Hill.

It used to be the case the umpires would 'offer' the light to the batsmen to see if they wanted to continue or not.

But a change to the regulations in October 2010 left the issue solely in the hands of the umpires after concerns had been raised the old system was unfair to the fielding side.

"The playing conditions changed a few years ago so it's now our decision. We try and communicate and let everybody know," said Erasmus, whose joint interview with Hill on Sky television was booed by angry fans when replayed over the giant screens at Old Trafford.

"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 (Cook) to bowl spin which eventually he decided not to. That pushed our hand because it's a safety issue."

Clarke, 30 not out when play was halted Sunday, had a prolonged conversation with South African official Erasmus as he and batting partner Ryan Harris stayed in the middle while England walked off.

Eventually, Clarke and Harris followed their opponents into the dressing-room.

"He asked us 'why suddenly?', Erasmus said of his conversation with Clarke.

"We actually communicated with each other (Erasmus to Hill) in that particular over so it wasn't a sudden decision.

"We were monitoring the light all the time -- it's not just something that we just suddenly decided."

England only need a draw in this match to retain the Ashes -- something made more likely by play being suspended.

After some 30 minutes of no play because of bad light, rain fell to further hamper any prospect of play resuming Sunday.