The Ashes: Australia carrying momentum into 4th test
Australia's misfiring batsmen finally got in the runs, with Clarke hitting a brilliant 187 and both Steve Smith and Chris Rogers falling just short of centuries. And their bowlers continued to look dangerous, particularly pacemen Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle and recalled offspinner Nathan Lyon.
Stung by accusations of cheating and embarrassed by the off-field antics of a squad member, it's hardly been the most comfortable of weeks for England since retaining the Ashes.
And an improving Australia is threatening to make life much trickier when the fourth test starts at Chester-le-Street on Friday.
The tourists are 2-0 down with two matches remaining and have to wait until the return series in Australia at the end of the year for a chance to reclaim the urn. But such was their dominance of the drawn third test at Old Trafford that squaring the series is a realistic target for Michael Clarke's side.
"I think England will be taking the positive that they are 2-0 up in the series and can't lose the Ashes but I think the way we played in Manchester has built some momentum for us," Clarke said Thursday, "and plenty of confidence is flowing in our camp.
"We need to be able to back up what we showed in Manchester."
After the lows of Lord's, when the Australians capitulated to a 347-run loss in the second test, came the optimism of Old Trafford.
Their misfiring batsmen finally got in the runs, with Clarke hitting a brilliant 187 and both Steve Smith and Chris Rogers falling just short of centuries. And their bowlers continued to look dangerous, particularly pacemen Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle and recalled offspinner Nathan Lyon.
If it wasn't for rain over the final two days, the likelihood is that this series would still be alive. As it was, the match was eventually washed out as a draw, ensuring England retained the urn in the most anticlimactic of ways.
The celebrations have proved to be fairly muted, though.
It emerged on Wednesday that Monty Panesar, an unused member of the squad for that third test, was fined by police on Monday for reportedly urinating over bouncers at a nightclub. He wasn't included in the squad for the fourth test.
And allegations from Australian broadcaster Channel Nine that some England's players, including Kevin Pietersen, have attempted to cheat Hot Spot technology by using silicon tape around their bat edges have dominated the news agenda this week, further sullying the mood.
"It's kind of taken a little bit of the gloss off winning the Ashes in such a short space of time, but as players all that stuff is out of our control," England captain Alastair Cook said Thursday.
Both Cook and Clarke have clearly grown weary of the DRS controversy that has blighted the series so far, and both teams will be hoping the focus is on cricket rather than technology over the next five days.
Chester-le-Street, a town in northern England near Newcastle, is hosting its first Ashes test but a likely hard and dry pitch will make the teams feel at home - the first three strips of the series had similar characteristics.
England has the option of pepping up its pace attack with either the imposing Chris Tremlett or Graham Onions, who plays his county cricket here for Durham. Tim Bresnan would be the player likely to step down if there is a change.
Australia, meanwhile, called up fast bowler Jackson Bird to its 12-man squad but shouldn't make any alterations unless Harris' injury-plagued body is not up to the task of playing two tests in as many weeks.
Clarke said the tourists have been leaning on batting coach Michael Di Venuto for advice after his time spent playing for Durham between 2007-12. But for the captain, it'll simply be a case of more of the same from Manchester.
"I think, as a team, one area that we continue to talk about is consistency, especially when we are outside of Australia and in different conditions," Clarke said.
"Good teams back it up day after day. That's our job from tomorrow."
A draw will be enough for England to win a third straight Ashes series.
"In our eyes, the series is still very much alive," Cook said. "We set out to win the series, not just to win the ashes, and that's still the goal."