England stand on the brink of retaining the Ashes after Australia were frustrated by rain and bad light on the fourth day of the third test at Old Trafford.

Almost the entire evening session was washed out in Manchester with Australia ending the day on 172 for 7, a lead of 331 heading into the fifth and final day.

Captain Michael Clarke was visibly infuriated by the decision by umpires Marais Erasmus and Tony Hill to originally suspend play for bad light despite conditions appearing suitable before the rain came to end proceedings prematurely.

And with predicted weather conditions for the fifth day suggesting torrential rain for the duration, Clarke, who finished the day unbeaten on 30, will be plotting an early declaration to assist in giving Australia a lifeline in their attempts to reclaim the Ashes.

Resuming on 294 for 7, England required 34 more runs to avoid the follow-on and through not out overnight pair Stuart Broad and Matt Prior, the home side cruised past the required total to strike a blow to Australia's chances.

Broad (32) soon succumbed to Nathan Lyon while Graeme Swann hit one four and one six on his way to a run-a-ball 11 before Peter Siddle found the inside edge.

Prior (30) showed a more cautious approach as England attempted to play out time on day four but Siddle found enough pace to seduce a mid-timed stroke as the wicket-keeper batsman attempted to turn the ball round the corner.

Such was Australia's intent to quickly build on their lead of 159 that David Warner was promoted to open alongside Chris Rogers.

While Warner flourished amid the license of playing attacking shots, Rogers was less than comfortable as having added just 12 he edged Broad to Prior, who took an excellent catch.

Warner (41) survived a review after missing a Broad bouncer, but his reprieve was short-lived after he hooked the ball straight to Joe Root on the boundary.

The dismissal was met with some irony around Old Trafford, with the main protagonists involved in a pre-series scuffle in a Birmingham bar during the Champions Trophy, which saw Warner banned for the remainder of the tournament.

The wicket sparked a run of six wickets for 98 runs with Usman Khawaja (24) being bowled by Swann, Shane Watson (18) picking out Kevin Pietersen in the deep and Steve Smith (19) being run out after a mix-up with Clarke.

After rain saw an early break for tea but no overs lost, Australia lost two further wickets before the wet conditions returned, as Broad snaffled Brad Haddin (8) off James Anderson and Mitchell Starc (11) chipped the ball straight to Swann for the Lancastrians's second scalp.

After a series of discussions between umpires Erasmus and Hill, play was eventually halted due to bad light, despite the floodlights having been on for much of the day's play, leading to angry exchanges involving Clarke.

Any hope of the days play resuming were ended when the rain came, with play eventually abandoned at 5:40pm and with more weather expected on day five, Australia are rapidly running out time to force a result and keep their hopes of regaining the Ashes alive.