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Australia retain The Ashes after beating England in the fourth test at Old Trafford

Australia celebrates the wicket of Jack Leach. Credit: PA

Australia have retained The Ashes after winning the fourth test at Old Trafford and beating England by 185 runs.

England's hopes of reclaiming The Ashes finally disappeared after a brave 11th-hour resistance against Australia came up short on a nerve-racking final evening.

Charged with the improbable prospect of nullifying the touring attack for 98 overs on the fifth day, the home side bristled with determination only to end in disappointment.

Australia finally dismissed them for 197 at 6.15pm, with a 185-run win giving them an unassailable 2-1 lead that means they will retain the urn regardless of events at The Oval next week.

Australia's Josh Hazlewood (second left) celebrates the wicket of England's Craig Overton. Credit: PA

The fifth and final test in cricket's oldest regular international series starts on Thursday.

That makes Joe Root the first England captain not to see off the old enemy on home soil since Nasser Hussain in 2001, and means outgoing head coach Trevor Bayliss will end his World Cup-winning reign on a sour note in the longer format.

Australia celebrated joyously on the outfield when Josh Hazlewood claimed the decisive lbw against Craig Overton, but they had been made to wait for their party by a gutsy batting performance.

Overton was one of three batsmen to face 100 or more deliveries on the day, joining Joe Denly (53) and Jos Buttler (34), but their collective efforts were not enough to conjure a sequel to Ben Stokes' miracle of Headingley last time out.

England's Ben Stokes looks on as the Ashes slips away. Credit: PA

Australia star batter Steve Smith was player of the match and the major difference between the two teams with scores of 211 and 82. Australia declared its first innings at 497-8 and its second at 186-6.

England, which scored 301 in its first innings, resumed Day 5 on 18-2, went to lunch on 87-4 and tea on 166-6.

Jack Leach, who scored a 51-ball 12, was promoted to No. 10 and batted for an hour with England fans hoping for a repeat of his third test heroics, or even bad light.

Australia held on to the Ashes in England for the first time in 18 years.

It thrashed England by 251 runs in the opening test at Edgbaston, the second test at Lord's was drawn before England won at Headingley by one wicket to level the series 1-1.

England's Craig Overton leaves the field after being dismissed. Credit: PA

"Bitterly disappointed," England captain Joe Root said, "to come so close to taking it to The Oval is quite hard to take."

"Definitely, yes," Root said when asked if he felt he was the right man to lead England.

"We have an important test match against Australia and we have to make sure we finish this summer strong: do not lose this Ashes series," he said.

"Every game against Australia matters."