England will pray for rain on the final day with four wickets left

Australia moved within four wickets of victory in the second Ashes Test and a 2-0 series lead after ending Joe Root’s defiant innings late on Sunday and exposing the England tailenders to the new ball before stumps on the penultimate evening.

Set an improbable 531 to win when Australia declared its second innings at 132-3 just before play resumed on day four, England lost captain Alastair Cook (1) in the second over and struggled to 247-6 at stumps.

Root (87) and Kevin Pietersen (53) shared a defiant 111-run partnership and Ben Stokes contributed a valuable 28 batting at No. 6 to help England force the Test into the last day its best hope of salvaging a draw with rain forecast for Monday.

Matt Prior was unbeaten on 31 at stumps and batting with Stuart Broad (22).

With the lights on in the gloomy, overcast conditions, and the crowd clap-clap-clapping in time with Johnson’s run-up, the last few overs were menacing.

But vice-captain Prior resolutely hung on for the first time in the series and Broad stuck with him.

Root batted courageously as the top-order crumbled but he fell short of his century when he played back to a Nathan Lyon delivery, edged onto his pad and wicketkeeper Brad Haddin dived forward to take the catch.

Cook’s early departure, out hooking Johnson, and the dismissal of Michael Carberry, out hooking Siddle with the total at 20, were offset by the stand between Root and Pietersen England’s first century partnership of the series.

The removal of Pietersen and Ian Bell (6) between lunch and tea was another massive setback for England.

Pietersen played onto his stumps and was dismissed by Siddle for the ninth time in his career more than any other bowler in Test cricket. Bell, who scored a chanceless, unbeaten 72 to prop up England’s first innings of 172, could barely believe he hit a rank full toss from part-time spinner Steve Smith directly to Johnson at mid-on just before tea.

Promoted to bat at No. 3 after Jonathan Trott quit the tour with a stress-related illness following the 381-run first Test defeat, Root faced 165 balls until his innings finally ended.

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