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Labuschagne century gives Australia hope in Manchester

Australia's Marnus Labuschagne celebrates after scoring a century at Old Trafford.

Australia's Marnus Labuschagne celebrates after scoring a century at Old Trafford. Photo: AAP

Australia have set their sights on retaining the Ashes at Old Trafford after a Marnus Labuschagne century and Manchester’s rain gave them hope of holding on for a draw.

On a wet fourth day where only 30 overs of play were available in the afternoon, Australia lost just one wicket to be 5-214 in their second innings when rain stopped play.

The tourists still need 61 more runs to make England bat again in the fourth Test, but rain is forecast again for Sunday with a weather warning also sent out by local authorities.

It means that a day that began with Australia staring down the barrel of a likely defeat has ended in a far less dire position, particularly if the expected rain arrives.

The only blow for Australia came when Labuschagne was caught behind trying to cut Joe Root on 111, ending a 103-run fifth-wicket stand with Mitch Marsh (31no).

Cameron Green then survived a chance later in the same over when he was put down by Harry Brook, low to the ground, at short leg.

Australia have conceded they have no chance of winning this Test, but are eyeing a draw that will guarantee they keep the urn if they can preserve their 2-1 series lead heading into the final Test.

“For us now it’s about retaining the Ashes,” Labuschagne said.

“This is what it comes down to. Whatever time we have left tomorrow, there’s only one option which is bat out the day.

“The rain is going play its part. But I certainly think there’ll be some sort of play tomorrow.”

Regularly frustrated by making starts on this tour without going on to make a score, Labuschagne chose the perfect moment to return to his best on Saturday.

The 29-year-old had been near chanceless until he entered the 90s, working the ball square of the wicket and digging in against the quicks.

With England forced to bring on spin by the umpires due to fading light, Labuschagne hit Root for two big sixes over mid on before eventually falling trying to cut a ball that spun back at him.

The century was Labuschagne’s first in 23 innings and only the Queenslander’s second outside Australia, after making several changes to his approach throughout this tour.

“How important that score is, is yet to be seen,” Labuschagne said.

“I thought it was an opportunity for us to put a little bit of pressure back on them.

“Obviously Joe getting me out there at the end is not not the ideal finish for us.

“We made a bit of a dent in the deficit and we’re not too far away from getting past that 60-run lead.”

Marsh’s maturity was also notable.

After holding his spot in the team with a run-a-ball 118 at Headingley a fortnight ago, the hard-hitting West Australian showed he had another gear on Saturday.

He soaked up 107 balls in his innings and barely offered an opportunity, only attacking a big shot when Moeen Ali over-pitched with a full toss on off stump.

It will now fall to Marsh, Green and Alex Carey to keep Australia on track during whatever play is available on day five, in order for the tourists to retain the Ashes.

Otherwise, a win for England would make mean an Ashes series goes to a fifth and deciding Test at 2-2 for the first time since 1936-37.

-AAP

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