Rain hampers Australia's hopes of levelling Ashes

BIRMINGHAM: Rain meant there was no play before lunch in the third Ashes Test between England and Australia at Edgbaston here on Saturday.

Persistent overnight and early morning rain meant the pitch and square were fully covered when the game, which had already been affected by bad weather, should have been getting underway at 11:00am local time (1000GMT).

Umpires Rudi Koertzen and Aleem Dar held an inspection at 12:00pm (1100GMT) and decided to have another look at 1:30pm (1230GMT) but, with water seeping into the outfield, the prospects for any play Saturday were not encouraging.

England, 1-0 up in the five-match series after their 115-run second Test victory at Lord's, were 116 for two in reply to Australia's first innings 263 - a deficit of 147.

England captain Andrew Strauss, who made a century at Lord's, was 64 not out and Ian Bell, returning to Test cricket on his Warwickshire home ground after Kevin Pietersen's series-ending Achilles injury, was unbeaten on 26.

Australia collapsed spectacularly on Friday against impressive swing bowling after resuming on the 126 for one they made in what play was possible on Thursday's opening day.

James Anderson took his Ashes-best figures of five wickets for 80 runs from 24 overs and Graham Onions, who grabbed two wickets with the first two balls of Friday's play, also enjoyed a Test-best haul against Australia of four for 58 from 16.4 overs.

Stand-in opener Shane Watson, recalled after Phillip Hughes was dropped, top-scored with 62.

Australia captain Ricky Ponting became his country's leading Test run-scorer and moved into third in the all-time list while making 38 as he surpassed retired former skipper Allan Border's mark of 11,174 runs.

But of more concern to the 34-year-old Tasmanian, who having been in charge of the losing side here in 2005 now risks becoming just the second captain of Australia to oversee two Ashes series defeats in England after Billy Murdoch more than a century ago, was the match position.

Thursday's first two sessions were washed out while on Friday bad light and rain took a further 19 overs out of the game. Now both sides were running out of time if either was to force a win in this match.

Ashes-holders Australia, who won 5-0 on home soil in 2006/07, will have to try to make the running if a positive result is to be achieved here against an England side who, at 1-0 up, will not want to give their oldest rivals a sniff of victory.

If this match does end in draw, England will be 1-0 up with two to play ahead of next week's fourth Test at Headingley and the fifth Test at the Oval.