England will hang on to the Ashes for at least one more night after reaching stumps at 251-5 on Monday, leaving Australia a day to take five wickets and regain the urn.
Ben Stokes (72 not out ) and vice-captain Matt Prior (7 not out ), the last of the recognized batsmen, survived the last half hour on Day 4 to ensure the third test went into a fifth day.
Australia had all the momentum in the first two sessions after resuming on 235-3, clobbering 134 runs in 17 overs before declaring with a lead of 503, and then bowling England skipper Alastair Cook first ball.
Shane Watson scored a 106-ball century, Australia’s seventh of the series, before his comical run out for 103, and George Bailey (39) plundered a world record 28 runs in the last over from Jimmy Anderson before captain Michael Clarke declared at 369-6.
England made a dire start with Ryan Harris bowling Cook for a golden duck and the top three were gone before the tea interval, with Michael Carberry (31) out lbw to end a 62-run second-wicket partnership and wicketkeeper Brad Haddin taking a spectacular, diving catch after Joe Root (19) edged Mitchell Johnson to make the total 76-3.
Ian Bell (60) and Stokes put on 99 for the fifth wicket to prolong the innings after Kevin Pietersen (45) was caught in the deep and England slipped to 121-4.
Pietersen batted with uncharacteristic restraint but couldn’t help himself as he approached a half century and tried to hit Nathan Lyon over the long-on boundary, into the breeze, and was caught in the deep by Harris.
Bell was England’s best chance of salvaging a draw from there but he feathered a catch to Haddin off Peter Siddle and was out on a DRS review when the Australians challenged the original not-out decision.
Now it’s up to Stokes, who is playing his second test, and Prior, who is desperately out of form, to help England bat out three sessions to extend England’s Ashes defense.
The biggest successful fourth innings chase in test cricket is 418-7 by the West Indies against Australia in Antigua in 2003. Next on the list was South Africa’s 414-4 to beat Australia in Perth in 2008.
Clarke and Cook are both playing their 100th tests and their positions in the series couldn’t be any more starkly different.
Clarke has scored two centuries, guided his team to comprehensive victories in Brisbane and Adelaide and is on the verge of reclaiming the old urn for the first time in four series.
Cook, only four months after winning the Ashes 3-0 on home soil, is struggling with the bat, hasn’t won a toss, and faces three consecutive test defeats for this first time in his reign.
The fourth morning at the WACA was emblematic of the state of the competing teams.
England opened with spinner Graeme Swann bowling to Watson, who hit him for 4-4-6 on the last three balls of the first over.
As he raced from 29 to 102 in 40 balls to reach his fourth test hundred, Watson clouted an out-of-sorts Swann for 22 runs in one over.
Following the example of David Warner, who scored 112 late on Day 3, Watson bullied an England attack missing key paceman Stuart Broad, who injured his right foot while batting in England’s first innings and couldn’t bowl or field.
That made it harder for Anderson, who has caused so much trouble for Australian batsmen with his swing in England’s three-series winning run. Bailey equaled Brian Lara’s test record for most runs in a single over when he hammered 4—6—2—4—6—6 off Anderson’s last over.
David Warner c Stokes b Swann 112
Chris Rogers c Carberry b Bresnan 54
Shane Watson run out (Bresnan) 103
Michael Clarke b Stokes 23
Steve Smith c (sub) b Stokes 15
George Bailey not out 39
Brad Haddin c Swann b Bresnan 5
Mitchell Johnson not out 0
Extras- (8b,5lb,5w) 18
TOTAL- (for six wickets, declared) 369
Overs- 87. Batting time- 355 minutes.
Fall of wickets- 1—157, 2—183, 3—223, 4—301, 5—331, 6—340.
Did not bat- Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, Nathan Lyon.
Bowling- Jimmy Anderson 19—5—105—0 (5w), Tim Bresnan 14—3—53—2, Ben Stokes 18—1—82—2, Graeme Swann 27—8—92—1, Joe Root 9—1—24—0.
Alastair Cook b Harris 0
Michael Carberry lbw b Watson 31
Joe Root c Haddin b Johnson 19
Kevin Pietersen c Harris b Lyon 45
Ian Bell c Haddin b Siddle 60
Ben Stokes not out 72
Matt Prior (not out) 7
Extras- (1b,11lb,5w) 17
TOTAL- (for five wickets) 251
Overs- 67. Batting time- 300 minutes.
Fall of wickets- 1—0, 2—62, 3—76, 4—121, 5—220.
Still to bat- Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Jimmy Anderson.
Bowling- Ryan Harris 10—1—51—1, Mitchell Johnson 15—3—52—1 (5w), Nathan Lyon 15—2—49—1, Peter Siddle 18—6—56—1, Shane Watson 9—1—31—1.
Toss- won by Australia.
Series- Australia leads 5-test series 2—0.
Umpires- Marais Erasmus, South Africa, and Billy Bowden, New Zealand.
TV umpire- Tony Hill, New Zealand. Match referee- Jeff Crowe, New Zealand.