Ashes reignites UK cricket passion

England failed to win the third Ashes Test by the narrowest of margins, but its team's performance has made the country fall in love with cricket again...

 The final result left the five-match series tantalisingly poised at 1-1.
Of course, in its birthplace, the game had its faithful suitors but they were often made to feel decidedly old-fashioned in a nation where football dominates the sporting culture.

Not anymore. Cricket is 'cool', indeed it might just even be 'sexy'.

However, after England's 239-run first Test defeat at Lord's there were many who warned it had been a great mistake in scheduling the series to coincide with the start of the football season.

Yet those who turned up at Old Trafford on Monday's final day found themselves taking part in a scene that belonged to the era of black and white newsreels.

 "It's incredible, we've turned 10,000 away from the ground and the police tell us they stopped about the same coming to us from Manchester," Jim Cumbes, the Lancashire chief executive said.

"I've never seen anything like it in 23 years of cricket administration," he added as replica shirt sales rocketed.

"I couldn't believe how many people were outside the ground," added England captain Michael Vaughan.

"It's fantastic. It does show a respect for the two teams who are playing out there. It's great entertainment and the nation's talking about it."

On the field, England did everything but win at Old Trafford where Australia captain Ricky Ponting's seven-hour 156 kept the hosts at bat until the final four overs when tailenders Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee held out to deny them the one wicket they craved.

But it is a measure of how things have changed that while there was a sense of what might have been in the home camp, Australia were delighted to get away with a draw after England's equally dramatic two-run second Test win at Edgbaston.

And whatever else happens in the series, England have at least shown their all-conquering opponents are human.

There was a telling moment on Sunday when the umpires intervened to tell Shane Warne to stop time-wasting while he was bowling.

Warne was only doing what many players from other sides would have done, but that was the point. It just seemed 'un-Australian', in much the same way that former captain Steve Waugh banned the use of nightwatchmen because it smacked of weakness.

Now, under Ponting, Australia have reverted to both practices, although they remain a fine team.

But Australia are being put under pressure in what is turning out to be the most exciting Test series since their 2000-01 series in India, where the hosts - thanks mainly to Venkatsai Laxman and Harbhajan Singh - overturned a 1-0 deficit to win 2-1 in a three-match encounter.

Meanwhile the likes of fast bowlers Stephen Harmison and Andrew Flintoff have made life tough for Australia's batsmen who - Ponting's innings at Old Trafford apart - have struggled.

And the continual pastings England have handed out to fast bowler Jason Gillespie, who only bowled four overs in the second innings, have led Australia to re-assess his future with the uncapped quick Shaun Tait waiting in the wings.

But will England be deflated by Old Trafford when the next Test starts in Nottingham on 25 August?

Vaughan is adamant they would be inspired.

"I really do hope the final two games are as good as the last two because I think the series deserves that," he said.

"Trent Bridge should be another classic, turn up."