FIFTH TEST - MATCH SUMMARY (The Oval, Day 4):
England 373 & 34-1 v Australia 367
England's chances of securing a draw that would win them the Ashes series gained a boost when bad light brought a halt to play on day four at The Oval.
Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick took the hosts to 34-1, a lead of 40, before play was finally called off.
Andrew Flintoff had earlier taken 5-78, including Matthew Hayden lbw for 138, and Matthew Hoggard claimed four victims to bowl Australia out for 367.
But Shane Warne hit back, dismissing Andrew Strauss with his fourth ball.
LATEST ACTION (all times BST)
CLOSE: England 34-1 (a lead of 40)
1815: Play has been officially abandoned for the day. England finish on 34-1 - a lead of 40.
1752: Play has yet to be officially called off for the day but it only looks a matter of time.
Dan McMillan, London, via email:
I was at the MCG one Christmas watching Australia against South Africa. As Shane Warne came on to bowl, someone in the crowd got out a banner which read: "It ain't over until the fat man spins".
1738: Shane Warne's jogging round the field now - something of a rare sight - while the covers are put over the wicket. There's the odd drop of rain now.
1734: The stands are emptying steadily now with the prospect of play diminishing by the minute. Bowden and Koertzen have another on-field chat... for what it's worth. Some slightly more hopeful Australian fans are carrying a lamp and a cut-out of the sun.
1726: While the players hang around waiting for a final decision, a lot of them are spotted signing autographs for fans to sign. A decision about whether there will be any more play can be made as late as 1830.
1718: The umpires come out for what must be one of the last inspections of the day. They are escorted by the security staff. But it's dark in the skies overhead and their faces don't suggest there's going to be any play.
John Murton, Belgium, via email:
You'll be glad to know the Secretary General of Nato (a Dutchman) is also a keen cricket follower and has been enjoying the series enormously. I work in his cabinet and have been following the cricket daily. He shares my interest and now, following my suggestion, has the BBC desktop ticker up on his desk at work. And he wants England to win!
1708: It's not getting any lighter at The Oval so surely it's only a matter of time before the umpires announce that there will be no more play today.
1700: There's no sign of the volume diminishing in the crowd at The Oval. The latest song among the 22,000 or so there is a reworking of the Skinner and Baddiel classic. But it's cricket and not football "coming home".
Phil Carter, Germany, via email:
I work for the US Military and have a number of US Army soldiers really getting into cricket because of this fantastic series. It's nice to hear the Aussies talking about the resurgence of English cricket. However they should be talking about the end of an Aussie-dominated era of world cricket. Good luck England, this match will be won by England to take it 3-1.
1642: The umpires are all smiles as they come back out for their latest check of the conditions.
1637: Freddie Flintoff is spotted with a cup of tea in his hand on the England balcony. On the Australian balcony, a sulky-looking Hayden looks up to the skies. There's no play for now.
1625: The umpires are back out there again and there's much scratching of their heads. It does look a bit brighter out there but it remains to be seen whether it's bright enough for play to resume.
Hugh, Kennington, London, via email:
I was at The Oval yesterday and I cheered the rain. I think that is justifiable for two reasons: 1. Why should England continue in poor conditions when this matters so much? England's play has put themselves in this position that they can exploit the weather; 2. It is probably only the weather at Old Trafford that means it is not 3-1 with the Ashes retained.
1609: There's been no improvement in the light and the umpires confirm no play is imminent.
1604: The two umpires saunter onto the field once more. Koertzen is the man to pull out the light meter. They are then in discussion with the head groundsman before Bowden reaches for his walkie-talkie. It remains a mystery what he said, who he was chatting to and whether play will resume.
1554: Bowden and Koertzen return to the wicket for an inspection. They spend less than a minute there and come back looking a tad grim-faced.
Mark, London, via email:
I'm so appalled by the attitude and approach that England are taking in this final Test match. Even more, the crowd are displaying the same attitude - depending more on the weather than their ability to win. It seems like they will go to any length just to win, and that's sad and hypocritical.
1542: It's a simple case of Warne 1, Vaughan 0 after the Australian spinner completely beats England's captain for pace and turn. But seconds after that England are offered the light and again take the option to leave the field. Ponting has a word with Bowden, Warne with Koertzen, but that's not going to change the umpires' minds.
1538: The crowd get on Shaun Tait's back after two fumbles in the field. He smiles in response as much jeering and gesturing greets him at every turn.
1535: The sparring between Warne and England's batsmen continue. It's all-square from that last over as Vaughan and Trescothick pick off singles but Warne makes them feel a tad uneasy.
1530: "Come on pup", "one for the part-timers", "this might work for us here" are the cries from Messrs Warne and Gilchrist as Clarke bowls. It's probably a tad tedious for the batsmen but they go about their business as usual.
1527: The light meters come into the hands of the umpires. With that McGrath is taken out of the attack and replaced by the left-arm orthodox of Clarke. Play will continue for the time being.
1526: Hayden calls to Warne for "another soft one". Thankfully for England fans, that doesn't come from this over. England move into a 30-run lead.
1524: McGrath is finding his line and length much better now. His last ball sees Trescothick edge it but it goes low and out of danger. That doesn't stop the Somerset opener, however, from darting back and wondering where the ball's gone.
1519: You can almost sense the nerves tingling in the stomachs of every spectator out there as Warne hops and skips his way through his latest over. You can understand why - both Trescothick and Vaughan do little to look under control... for now.
1515: It looks like Vaughan enjoyed his tea. He leans back and cuts McGrath to the boundary. Intriguingly the ball bounces into a sheet of water past the rope. It's not clear whether the England captain realises that but he smacks it to pretty much the same spot the next ball.
1512: England's batsmen and supporters wait with baited breath to see who will bowl at the other end. McGrath is the man removing his jumper and limbering up.
1510: Warne gets the game going. Trescothick lunges forward for a big drive from the first ball but Lee dives onto the pitch to stop a certain four.
1507: The Oval witnesses the latest rendition of Jerusalem as Australia return to the field. There's giggles all-round as Warne, Ponting, Langer, Katich, Martyn and Gilchrist all come to the field with their sunglasses on despite the less-than-bright conditions.
1503: Play is due to restart at 1510 the umpires have announced.
1449: Tea has been taken early.
1439: Hopes of more play are not too good, according to the BBC weather team. Weatherman Everton Fox says the thick blanket of cloud is not shifting and, although there's not too much rain anticipated, the light is not expected to improve a lot.
Julian Walter, Lima, Peru, via email:
I have got up at 0430 every Test day this winter here in Lima. England have given me so much happiness that, win, lose or draw, this cricket will remain well in my mind until my end of days. I have to admit that, like my fellow men in England, output has diminished and being called obsessive by Peruvians has left my passion undimmed. Come on boys last push, last push. Ashes for the Andes.
1432: The covers are coming on at The Oval now. There is a little drizzle out there at the moment but nothing too drastic.
1421: The light meters are out again. The umpires offer the light to the batsmen and, unsurprisingly, they take the opportunity to head back to the pavilion. It brings a massive cheer from the crowd, perhaps the biggest of the day, with England 13 runs ahead.
1419: Bowden tells Ponting he's happy to keep Warne bowling but that he'll have to bring on another spinner at the other end if he wants to stay out there.
1417: Vaughan gets the thickest of edges down to leg for a single. He's then deep in discussion with Bowden at the bowler's end, no doubt discussing the light. Meanwhile, a host of England supporters raise their umbrellas in a bid to persuade the umpires to bring the players off, while Australia's fans pretend the sun is shining by taking off their tops.
1414: Vaughan gets himself in the perfect position to drive Warne for two and get off the mark.
1411 WICKET England 2-1 (Strauss 1)
Warne strikes with his fourth ball. He gets plenty of turn. Strauss strides well forward but gives a big inside edge onto his pads and into the grateful grasp of Katich.
1408: Warne and Ponting are deep in discussion as Australia's spinner gets ready to bowl.
1405: Both batsmen are off the mark now. Strauss prods at one McGrath delivery for a single. Meanwhile, Bowden seems to intimate to Ponting that Warne needs to come on if the batsmen are to stay out there.
1404: The umpires get their light meters out. After what seems an age of debate, they opt not to offer England the chance to go off. Bowden seems to say to Koertzen to give it one more over to see if the light worsens.
1402: Brett Lee opens his bowling with a maiden.
1357: Trescothick gets England's scoring under way. A fairly forgettable single gets the sort of cheer which greeted some of the recent Australian wickets.
1355: Trescothick takes strike to Glenn McGrath. He prods it forward, looks like he's going to dart for a run and then screams a "no", which echoes around the ground.
1353: With barely enough time for the spectators to catch their breath, Strauss and Trescothick come to the square in a bid to extend England's minimal lead.
AUSTRALIA: 367 ALL OUT
1344: Hoggard and Flintoff lead England off the field to rapturous applause from their team-mates and the crowd.
1343: WICKET Australia 367 (Lee )
Australia are all out. Lee unleashes a big blow off Hoggard but Giles takes a great catch over his head deep on the boundary. That's four wickets for Hoggard and remarkably England have a six-run lead after the first innings.
1339: Shaun Tait is within a whisker of being run out by Collingwood when he takes a quick single but he steers himself into the crease in time.
1334: WICKET Australia 363-9 (McGrath 0)
McGrath is out for the first time in this Ashes series. He is tempted to play at a Hoggard away swinger and he edges it to Strauss at second slip.
1332: Glenn McGrath will be hoping to maintain his record of not having been dismissed in the series so far.
1327: WICKET Australia 363-8 (Warne 0)
England's players charge in to rub the top of Flintoff's head as he celebrates his fifth wicket of the innings. A frustrated Warne tries to hook Freddie but skies it to long-on. Vaughan is there on hand to take it. He juggles it once, pulls a stunned face, finally takes it and then it's all smiles.
1326: Flintoff's continuing his fine spell over lunch. He beats the outside of Warne's bat with three back-to-back deliveries. Warne stares back like he couldn't care less.
1323: Kevin Pietersen chases hard, skids along the turf and stops a boundary. It only halts one run but the crowd love it. The English crowd cheer, the Aussies jeer as Pietersen, who has dropped six catches in the Ashes series, throws the ball back.
1318: WICKET Australia 359-7 (Clarke 24)
Jones' earlier drop proves inexpensive (see 1311) as Clarke is trapped lbw by Hoggard having added only one more run to his score. Hoggard stands on the spot and lets out a brief shout to mark the event.
1316: Flintoff opts for the slower ball. Warne scoops it back in the air. Thankfully for the Aussie spinner, it's just out of the grasp of Flintoff.
1311: An almighty let-off for Clarke. Jones flings himself to take a one-handed catch but he misses it. Hoggard can only shake his head in despair.
1309: Billy Bowden calls "play" and some riotous noise from the post-lunch crowd greets Hoggard's first run-in. The two have words straight away - Bowden says Hoggard's one away from a warning for his follow through.
1307: Everyone's back out and ready to go, with Shane Warne taking his guard for the rest of Hoggard's over.
LUNCH: Australia 356-6
1228: WICKET Australia 356-6 (Gilchrist 23)
Hoggard bucks the trend of Flintoff-only wickets by getting into the action. With the first ball of the last over before lunch, he slaps it into Glichrist's pad. Bowden sends Gilchrist packing. And lunch is taken with five balls remaining of the over.
1224: Flintoff charges in for his latest over, as fresh as he was for the first of his 11 overs. Gilchrist intelligently places the ball for three to take his total to 23 and Australia to within 17 runs of England's first-innings total.
1219: Geraint Jones flings himself to the right to take a great one-handed catch off Hoggard's bowling. Billy Bowden shakes his head - it did after all only hit Gilchrist's pad, although it got precariously close to the bat.
1216: There's another big shout - again from Flintoff but, on this occasion, as it smacks the pad of Clarke. Koertzen smiles, disagrees and tells Freddie it was missing leg.
1212: Blink and you miss it - the action's coming thick and fast, which just about sums up an almighty edge by Gilchrist. It hangs in the air but it's clear enough of Andrew Strauss at gully before racing for four.
1209: "Go on, go on", Clarke shouts as he forces Gilchrist into a quick single to mid-off. He runs quickly enough to make sure there's no problem and Australia edge within 30 runs of England's total.
1206: Gilchrist has no option but to let out an audible sigh as Flintoff darts it back between his bat and his midriff. The crowd of some 22,000 are absolutely loving it.
1203: The ball clatters into the advertising hoardings before anyone even has a chance to blink as he pirouettes for a boundary off Hoggard.
1159: Hoggard unleashes an absolute rip-snorter of a delivery for Adam Gilchrist's first ball. The Australian vice-captain plays and misses at it... and just escapes.
1155: WICKET Australia 330-5 (Katich 1)
Crowd hero Flintoff does it again, nipping one back to left-hander Katich who knew his fate and was even on his way back to the pavilion before Rudi Koertzen's slow arm of doom was raised.
1151: A remarkable leave by Clarke. He nonchalantly lets the last ball of Hoggard's delivery go through to the wicketkeeper. The ball, though, is narrowly close to hitting the top of his stumps.
1146: Clarke absolutely swipes Hoggard towards Bell in the field. Bell can't read it in the light initially but fields it nonetheless.
1141: WICKET Australia 323-4 (Hayden 138)
It's celebration time once more for Flintoff and this time it's the real dangerman that goes - Hayden. He is trapped plumb lbw. Flintoff sticks out his tongue, raises both hands and rocks his head back and forth as he drinks up the adulation from the crowd.
1137: Giles suggests to the umpires he needs a head torch when he fails completely to see the latest Australian shot. The resultant quick single takes Australia within 50 runs of England's score.
1135: Play resumes once again after that brief drinks break. Harmison is the man to get the game going again.
1131: For a brief moment, a relative quiet comes across The Oval as Australia's batsmen begin to find their range. With that, a drinks break is taken.
1125: The easiest of fours by Hayden as Harmison entres the attack - Hayden gently swivels and off it soars down the leg side. That leaves Australia 61 runs short of England's first-innings total.
1120: The umpires meet for another brief discussion. It may be to do with the light - it's not exactly clear - but they stay out all the same.
1116: Hayden calls a quick single but only just sneaks in. The bonus for him is that Flintoff's throw at the stumps charges through for four overthrows. Seconds later Vaughan appears to be raising concern about the ball getting wet in the outfield.
1113: Both teams are all smiles out there. Clarke and Vaughan share a joke, it would seem to do with the light.
1108: Clarke arcs his back, puts the weight completely on his back foot and steers the ball for four to the extra-cover boundary. That takes Australia past 300 and Clarke to eight.
1105: Hayden hits back-to-back fours. The first is a bit of a wild smack, the second is absolutely sublime - he drives it past the bowler with aplomb. Australia look to be really upping the tempo now.
1104: Clarke should really be back in the pavilion now. He slashes at a Hoggard away-swinger. It's just above head height for Flintoff but somehow he spills it. A fairly routine catch... missed.
1102: Australian spinner Stuart MacGill comes onto the field of play for a quick word with his team-mates.
1100: As has been the case all summer there are plenty of celebrities at The Oval today. Among those first spotted are actor Hugh Grant, former commentator Tony Lewis and ex-Prime Minister John Major, who just can't seem to stay away from this match.
1058: The umpires take a light reading. The batsmen are offered the light but this time they opt to stay on. Immediately Hayden takes a wild swipe at a Flintoff ball and just avoids giving an edge.
1055: Hoggard produces an absolute belter of a delivery. It completely baffles Clarke, who leaves it but looks shocked how close it is to his stumps.
1051: Matthew Hoggard is brought into the fray for the first time on day four. Meanwhile, Trevor Penney replaces Steve Harmison.
1047: The new ball is taken after Collingwood checks the dampness of the outfield. Unsurprisingly, Flintoff is given the honour.
1045: Hayden comes down the wicket to Giles but the "King of Spain" cuts out his hefty drive. That first ball sets the tone for an impressive maiden. That leaves Clarke on strike against Flintoff.
1041: Michael Clarke comes to the crease and survives the remaining three deliveries from Flintoff's over.
1037: WICKET Australia 281-3 (Martyn 10)
England have the option of taking the new ball but Vaughan opts against it. It proves a wise move as Flintoff gets it to bounce and Martyn half-pulls, half-defends the ball into the hands of the fast-approaching Collingwood. That's the early breakthrough England so desperately wanted.
1032: Giles trundles in for the final over before the new ball can be taken. There's a chorus of "ooohs" and "aaahs" from the crowd after what looks like a Paul Collingwood drop. But the ball is, in fact, played into the ground before flicking up to the Durham all-rounder.
1030: Flintoff starts with two slips and a gully for the opening over of the day. He opens up with a less-than-impressive no ball.
1028: England's players go into a huddle as Michael Vaughan gives a final team talk. As they break from their huddle, Matthew Hayden and Damien Martyn come to the wicket.
1026: As has been the custom of this final Ashes Test, Jerusalem is belting out of the PA system at The Oval, ably supported by an already voal crowd.
1021: The covers are off, it's dry for now and play is due to start on time.