England were handed a potential Ashes lifeline after water crept under the covers in Perth overnight and delayed play on the final day. Some 28 overs were lost due to rain and then the groundstaff's attempts to dry the pitch, before the fifth day finally got going at 1pm.

The England coach, Trevor Bayliss, expressed concern that the water on the pitch could make batting "difficult and maybe even a little dangerous" and that, as things stood around the scheduled start time, it was "unacceptable" for play. Former Australia opener Simon Katich added on ABC Radio that the damp parts of the pitch were "like play dough" when he inspected them this morning, raising doubts as to whether it could be made fit.

Australia's coach Darren Lehmann, meanwhile, said the hosts would understandably take a different view about the conditions, given that they are six wickets away from regaining the Ashes. England, trailing by 127 runs, require at least a draw to ensure they travel to Melbourne with any hope of drawing the series. If Australia win in Perth, they will have an unassailable 3-0 lead.

England's hopes of securing that draw given an unexpected boost by a lengthy delay at the start of the fifth day - although the potential for erratic bounce won't help their cause. Heavy overnight rain appeared to have caused water to leak under the covers affecting an area of the pitch roughly on a good length at the Lillee-Marsh end of the ground.

The groundstaff used leaf blowers in an attempt to dry the area, though there was some concern from the English camp that such action could accelerate the deterioration of the pitch and cause the cracks that were apparent at that end to open and crumble. Briefly, the abandonment of the game was a possibility.

"There has been leakage under the covers overnight," umpire Chris Gaffaney said. "It's really soft at the moment. It's just a wait and see process.

"The pitch has to be the same for both sides but, at the moment, we feel the pitch has been altered overnight."

The groundstaff's efforts were also hampered by squalls of rain blowing across the ground at irregular intervals during the morning.

There was no evidence of any hole in the covers or that they blew off overnight. Nor was there any suggestion that someone might have tampered with them. It could even prove that the moisture was caused by condensation or sweating - the tight covers were pulled over a slightly damp surface last night - though the degree of dampness on the pitch would seem to render that unlikely.

Either way, the delay may well be an embarrassment to the WACA Ground management. This is the venue's final Ashes Test, though other less high-profile matches, including Tests may still be staged here, and this incident is sure to cause some reflection on the quality of covers at the ground.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo