MANCHESTER - Rain frustrated Australia's bid to win the third Test against England at Old Trafford on Sunday and keep alive their slender hopes of regaining the Ashes. At the premature close of the fourth day, Australia led England by 331 with three second innings wickets remaining.

The teams left the field after tea with Australia 172 for seven after the umpires decided the light was too bad to allow play to continue even though the floodlights were on. Australia captain Michael Clarke, whose side trail 2-0 in the five-match series, argued in vain with umpire Marais Erasmus and there was scattered booing from the spectators. However, steady rain soon followed, forcing the umpires to suspend play for the day with further bad weather forecast for Monday's final day. Australia wrapped up England's first innings for 368 in the morning session to take a 159-run lead. The Australians then reshuffled their batting order in order to put quick runs on the board, restoring David Warner to his usual spot at opener, and the left-hander responded with 41 from 57 balls including five boundaries.

Warner was playing his first test of the series after he was suspended for punching England opener Joe Root in a Birmingham bar during the Champions Trophy earlier this year. Clarke, who scored 187 in Australia's first innings, was again in fine touch, reaching 30 not out as Australia sought to counter England's slow over rate and defensive fields before the umpires and then the weather intervened.

After England resumed their first innings in the morning session on 294 for seven, Stuart Broad ensured his team avoided the follow-on by taking three boundaries off a Ryan Harris over. He fell shortly afterwards, caught behind for 32 off an outside edge to give off-spinner Nathan Lyon his only wicket.

Matt Prior was dropped at mid-wicket by Steven Smith on 18 off Lyon and Graeme Swann (11) struck a straight six off the same bowler before he gave wicketkeeper Brad Haddin his fifth catch of the innings with an inside edge from the bowling of Peter Siddle. Prior (30) was the last wicket to fall, caught by Warner to present Siddle with his fourth wicket.

Australia, promoted Warner from number six to partner fellow left-hander Chris Rogers and the pair put on 23 before Rogers was caught behind for 12 by Prior tumbling to his left off Broad five minutes before lunch. Warner survived a barrage of short-pitched balls from Broad and a confident appeal for a catch behind the wicket after an attempted hook at the England fast bowler before he was adroitly caught by Root at deep square-leg off Tim Bresnan.

Usman Khawaja (24) was bowled around his legs by Swann and Shane Watson (18), who was dropped down the order after opening in the first two tests, fell attempting to force the pace. Watson was caught on the third-man boundary by Kevin Pietersen chasing a wide delivery from Bresnan. Smith, who was dismissed 11 short of a century in the first innings, lofted both Bresnan and Swann for straight sixes but was then run out for 19 after a mixup with Clarke. Tea was taken 10 minutes early because of a rain shower and after the interval Haddin was dismissed for eight and Mitchell Starc for 11 as Australia went for their shots.




(OVERNIGHT: 294-7):

A Cook c Haddin b Starc    62

J Root c Haddin b Siddle    8

T Bresnan c Haddin b Siddle    1

J Trott c Clarke b Harris    5

K Pietersen lbw b Starc    113

I Bell b Harris    60

J Bairstow c Watson b Starc    22

M Prior c Warner b Siddle    30

S Broad c Haddin b Lyon    32

G Swann c Haddin b Siddle    11

J Anderson not out    3

EXTRAS: (b3, lb17, nb1)    21

TOTAL: (all out, 139.3 overs)    368

FOW: 1-47, 2-49, 3-64, 4-110, 5-225, 6-277, 7-280, 8-338, 9-353, 10-368

BOWLING: Harris 31-9-82-2; Starc 27-5-76-3; Lyon 35-12-95-1; Watson 15-7-26-0; Siddle 29.3-7-63-4; Smith 2-0-6-0


C Rogers c Prior b Broad    12

D Warner c Root b Bresnan    41

U Khawaja b Swann    24

S Watson c Pietersen b Bresnan    18

M Clarke not out    30

S Smith run out    19

B Haddin c Broad b Anderson    8

M Starc c Swann b Anderson    11

R Harris not out    0

EXTRAS: (b4, lb2, w3)    9

TOTAL: (7 wkts, 36 overs)    172

FOW: 1-23, 2-74, 3-99, 4-103, 5-133, 6-152, 7-172

BOWLING: Anderson 8-0-37-2; Broad 7-2-30-1; Swann 15-0-74-1; Bresnan 6-0-25-2

TOSS: Australia

UMPIRES: Marais Erasmus (RSA), Tony Hill (NZL)

TV UMPIRE: Kumar Dharmasena (SRI)

MATCH REFEREE: Ranjan Madugalle (SRI)