England has been denied what would have been a remarkable victory at The Oval, after the umpires called bad light with the home side just 21 runs from victory.

With just four overs remaining, England was 5 for 206 and closing in on the 227 Michael Clarke had set them for victory.

The decision to end play - which is effectively out of the umpires hands - meant the match finished in a draw and England retained the Ashes with a 3-0 series win.

The grandstand finish had been set up by an entertaining day's cricket that had seen 13 wickets and plenty of runs.

Clarke had declared his side's second innings at 6 for 111, leaving England 44 overs to chase victory after they had earlier been dismissed for 377 in their first innings.

England began the run chase in a positive fashion, with Alastair Cook (34) and Joe Root (11) both looking to play their strokes.

However, it was an imperious Kevin Pietersen (62) that really put the home side in the box seat.

Pietersen hit the Australians to all areas of the ground, knocking up his half-ton from just 36 deliveries - a record for England in Ashes cricket.

Jonathan Trott (59) also played a pivotal role in the innings, hitting his highest score of the series as he found his way back in to form.

But in the end it was a technicality that ended the match, as umpires Aleem Dar and HDPK Dharmasena adjudicated that it was too dark for game to carry on.

Clarke, whose aggressive declaration gave England a sniff at victory, had complained about the light twice in what would be the final over of the day.

As it happened, the umpires had forgotten to bring their light metre out on to the field and needed the device run out to the centre.

Dar then fended off an over-zealous Clarke as he leaned in to try and see what the light reading was.

The players left the field to a stadium of boos, with the home side painfully close to capturing an unprecedented 4-0 Ashes victory.

He may have been the ire of the sell-out 26,000 crowd at The Oval by the close of play, but it was Clarke who gave England hope when he set them an enticing total in the hope of himself taking victory.

Clarke declared his side's innings at tea on 6 for 211 having earlier dismissed England for 377 after some entertaining pinch hitting from Matt Prior (47) and Graeme Swann (34).

The tourists began their second innings with intent - promoting Shane Watson (26) to opener with David Warner (12), and moving James Faulkner (22) and Brad Haddin (0) to number three and four, respectively.

Despite the reshuffle, the Australian innings never got out of second gear.

Clarke (28 not out) was the pick of the Australian batsmen, as tailenders Ryan Harris (1) and Mitchell Starc (13 not out) also received promotions at the expense of Chris Rogers, who was seemingly judged to have not been aggressive enough.

The declaration at tea gave Australia 44 overs to bowl to take 10 wickets and a morale-boosting victory, but Australia's bowlers couldn't make any decisive inroads.

James Faulkner was the stand-out bowler for the Australians, claiming six wickets across the day with 4 for 51 in the first innings and 2 for 47 in the second.

He shared the wickets in the second innings with Ryan Harris, named Australia's player of the series, who dismissed Root and took the vital wicket of Pietersen.

Pietersen and Trott looked to have been steering England toward a momentous victory, and with 13 overs remaining needed 79 runs for victory.

Pietersen, whose rapid-fire knock was in stark contrast to the first innings - where he faced 190 deliveries for his 50 - took the game well and truly away from the Australians

By the time he eventually holed out to Warner at long-on, Australia could only hope to salvage a draw.

Man-of-the-series Ian Bell (17) and debutant Chris Woakes (17 not out) had the crowd on the edge of their seats as they guided the home side ever closer to victory.

But it was not to be, with Bell's run-out to Mitchell Starc giving the officials time to run the much maligned light metre on to the field to the disappointment of the home crowd.

England captain Cook told the presentation ceremony that the Ashes victory was the "proudest moment of my life".

He also defended the match officials, who were booed by the home fans as they took to the podium.

"It would have been nice to finish with a win but the rules and regulations are there for a reason," he said.

"The umpires have strict guidelines and, if it was day three, we would have gone off. This morning our job was to try and make it as difficult as possible to stop Australia from pushing on for a win and to make our chances of victory easier.

"The crowds have been fantastic for all five tests and I'm privileged to captain this group of guys. Winning this series is the proudest moment of my life."