While making allowances for the poor showing of their batsmen in the opening two Tests of the series, there was no conceivable reason why England should not have arrested their losing run once wet weather caused the loss of ten hours' play on days two and three. Yet the final morning dawned with the home side in grave danger of being forced to follow on, and only spirited tail-end resistance spared them further embarrassment.
If the Australians possessed any lingering doubts about their ability to protect their two-nil lead in the series, they were quickly dispelled after Border brought to an end a nine-match sequence of losing the toss to Gower in international matches. With an unchanged and confident side, he was able to choose to bat first on a placid surface while England were still trying to regroup their resources. Broad and Jarvis had been discarded after Lord's and the vastly experienced Lamb and Botham recalled. But in the hours leading up to the match, England had to reshuffle after losing Lamb, Smith and Foster to injuries, and Gatting, who withdrew owing to a family bereavement. Eleventh-hour calls went out to Jarvis, Curtis and Tavaré, whose last Test appearance had been against Sri Lanka in 1984.
England's disappointment deepened because it had been widely held that Foster and Dilley, bowling well in tandem, represented their best chance of bowling the Australians out twice. As it was, in sultry conditions Dilley struggled to find his rhythm, having undergone knee surgery just a month earlier, and Jarvis bowled without confidence as Marsh and Taylor saw off the new ball in an 88-runs opening stand. Emburey made the breakthrough, having Taylor stumped, and Botham marked his return to Test cricket after 23 months' absence by trapping Marsh lbw in the thirteenth over of his comeback. When Border, having just passed 8,000 runs in Tests, was bowled around his legs by Emburey, the Australians were in a rare spell of trouble at 105 for three.
England's hopes of working their way back into the series ended there as Jones and Boon added 96 for the fourth wicket, parted only when Jarvis deflected a drive from Jones on to the stumps and Boon, backing up, was unluckily run out. The first day ended with Edgbaston under water after a 45-minutes cloudburst. Despite the impressive Birmingham pitch covering, only 59 minutes' play was available late on the second day, but it brought some consolation for England when they dismissed Waugh for the first time in the series, bowled by Fraser in an impressive and accurate spell. Fraser's first Test wicket ended Waugh's remarkable run of 393 runs in four Test innings, during which time he had successfully fended off 584 other deliveries.
The third day's play was equally badly hit by the weather, with no start possible before three o'clock and only 31 overs bowled. In this time Jones took his score to 141 with a complete range of strokes which frustrated each England bowler in turn. He finally fell for 157 on the Monday morning well caught at deep long leg by England's substitute, Folley, and when Australia's innings ended at 11.50 a.m. at 424, England should not have been stretched to bat out the game for a draw.
However, Alderman, with support from three other seamers, quickly reduced England to 75 for five. The situation called for a rescue act from Botham, and with intrepid help from Russell he rallied England. Curbing his natural aggression, Botham batted for two and a half hours for 46 before his patience eventually gave way and he was bowled through the gate by the eager Hughes. Russell was out an over later to the leg-spinner, Hohns, and England entered the final day still 40 runs short of avoiding the follow-on with only three wickets in hand. This immediately became two when Fraser was run out in the first over of the morning, but Dilley played responsibly for 11 not out, Emburey and Jarvis scored valuable runs in less orthodox but effective fashion, and the danger was averted.
With Australia's lead 182 and a maximum of 72 overs remaining, there was some conjecture that Border would send his batsmen out for a quick thrash, declare and still find time to help further misery on England's batting. He ignored the temptation and opted instead for practice, content with a moral victory and the knowledge that England were in further disarray.
Man of the Match: D. M. Jones. Attendance: 54,884; receipts: £683,372.
Close of play: First day, Australia 232-4 (D. M. Jones 71*, S. R. Waugh 17*); Second day, Australia 294-6 (D. M. Jones 101*, M. G. Hughes 1*); Third day, Australia 391-7 (D. M. Jones 141*, T. V. Hohns 40*); Fourth day, England 185-7 (J. E. Emburey 2*, A. R. C. Fraser 12*).