England v Australia, 5th Test, The Oval, 4th day September 11, 2005

It's darkest before the dawn

Australia lost 8 for 90 to swing and seam and failed to build on the impressive gains of Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer © Getty Images
With only the postal votes to come, it's almost time to concede the Ashes. A miraculous swing - one larger than any Andrew Flintoff could deliver - is required on day five of a match that has left Australia in the dark. The debates over policy and platforms will run for months but this is not a time to complain about dirty tricks.

Rain delays and light meters have clouded the issue at The Oval and destroyed the denouement of a shining series. However, time lost for weather delays and umpires debating the definition of "unfair" and "dangerous" conditions must not overshadow the contest or be used as excuses.

The term "whingeing Pom" has spilled regularly and viciously over the past two months and Australian fans must resist the urge to respond in kind. If the loss is confirmed we have to stick out our chins and absorb the barbs from .co.uk emails and +44 telephone numbers. It will be an unfamiliar hurt, but there is no option.

Fingers wanting to point at umpiring decisions, substitute fielders and September gloom must stay in pockets. The highlights during the rain breaks have not lied - Australia's campaign was on the rocks since Lord's on day one. Brief shifts have not been able to claw back ground and England have switched from irrelevant and vocal opposition to the seat of power.

Batting weaknesses to the moving ball have surfaced as regularly as wonky tax-cut promises. Four fell lbw today as Australia lost 8 for 90 to swing and seam and failed to build on the impressive gains of Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer to set a total that would keep the dream alive. Dropped catches, no-balls and uncontrolled fast bowling have damaged Australia's hopes more than officials or rain.

Only Shane Warne's spin can swing the result on the final day as Australia have 98 overs to forge a miracle. The first step came when Warne, who came on after three overs only to keep his side in the field, turned into Andrew Strauss, but there was little else to celebrate. When Warne fizzed a legbreak past Michael Vaughan's edge the umpires offered him the light for a second time and he agreed faster than a politician accepts a photo opportunity.

It was a numbing day that ended with England leading by 40 with nine wickets remaining. Australia must use their darkest moment to rise again. The desperation of the mid-80s losses gave the team motivation to lift to world-champion status and this impending result can act in the same way.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo