England were denied the chance to make Ashes history - and complete one of the most fearless chases in living memory - when the umpires took the sides off for bad light with the game minutes away from a thrilling climax.
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The home side, looking to turn their 3-0 series win into a dream 4-0 success over the Australians, required 21 in 24 balls when Aleem Dar and Kumar Dharmasena produced the dreaded light meters and signalled the end of proceedings.
In doing so, the officials surely followed procedure to the letter but to deny a full house a natural conclusion to an unforgettable day of Test cricket at the Kia Oval felt like a sport fatally hamstrung by its own laws.
That certainly seemed to be the view of the supporters, who roundly booed the decision - an ill-fitting end to a triumphant series win for Alastair Cook's side.
That England were within touching distance of the winning line was only made possible in the first place by a perfect storm of events, including a gambler's declaration by Australia captain Michael Clarke and a quite wonderful knock of 62 in 55 balls from a bombastic Kevin Pietersen.
Clarke's second declaration of the match, at 111 for six, left England a tempting but unlikely 227 in 44 overs after tea.
They ticked along nicely early in the innings but really gained traction towards that mark when Pietersen was at the crease, thrashing 10 boundaries and bringing a vocal crowd to the boil.
Jonathan Trott also impressed with a fluent 59 and at the end the incoming Matt Prior and debutant Chris Woakes required less than a run a ball before being ordered from the pitch.
By that point Clarke had long since given up on the adventurous spirit that had got everyone to this point, constantly eating up time and complaining to the umpires about the admittedly dreadful light.
England were doing their best to give the opposite impression, but the decision to go off for light no longer rests with the batting side.
Had things been allowed to play out to the end, England were strong favourites to claim a 4-0 home Ashes win for the first time ever and also give Clarke the dubious honour of being only the third captain - after Sir Garfield Sobers (1968) and Graeme Smith (2006) - to lose a Test having declared twice.
Australia had just taken their fifth wicket with England on 206, Mitchell Starc producing a remarkable stop and throw to dismiss man-of-the-series Ian Bell and, crucially, give the umpires a window to check on the light.
Amid the frustration, it should not be overlooked that a draw leaves Australia without a win in an Ashes series for the first time since 1977.
The day had started with a knockabout end-of-term feeling, England in much more playful mood than they had been on day three, when they eked out their runs at little more than two an over.
Resuming their first innings on 247 for four, they added 130 runs in 28.4 overs to move things along.
Prior and Graeme Swann enjoyed the freedom most to score a combined 81 in 81 balls before James Faulkner dismissed both on his way to four wickets.
England's 377 left Australia 115 ahead and they put together a harum scarum second innings of 111 for six before declaring at tea.
Part of the policy was a rejigged batting order which saw the defensive opener Chris Rogers jettisoned.
Quick runs and regular wickets were the order of the day in that knock, Stuart Broad pocketing four scalps and Michael Clarke reaching 28 not out.
England's unlikely chase started encouragingly, Alastair Cook bagging a pair of boundaries off Ryan Harris' first over, and Joe Root sending his fourth ball to the ropes.
Root's adventure got the better of him in the fifth over, following a wider one and nicking Harris behind. Haddin, as ever, was on hand and gathered his 29th catch of the series - a world record.
Trott came to the crease with impressive intent, helping Cook nudge the score along to 43 at the 10 over mark and 61 after 15.
Ten runs from Nathan Lyon's fifth over and 12 off Faulkner's first gave the fans real cause for hope, but Cook's day ended when the latter had him lbw for 34.
The stands roared Pietersen to the crease, his X-factor clearly well-suited to such circumstances.
Pietersen was palpably in the mood. His fourth ball disappeared to the boundary and his seventh, also bowled by Faulkner, followed it.
A booming drive off Starc raced to the ropes and seemed a sign of intent. Four more boundaries off Starc's next two visits confirmed it.
The belief in the stands was rising with every stroke of Pietersen's bat.
Such was his dominance that his 50 partnership with Trott contained just seven runs from the number three, while his own half-century occupied just 36 deliveries.
England managed to survive his dismissal - holing out off Harris for 62 - but they could not get the better of the conditions.