England moved to within touching distance of retaining the Ashes as Tim Bresnan spearheaded another impressive bowling display on the third day at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Bresnan, on Ashes debut, took 3-26 in 15 miserly overs as England reduced the hosts to 169/6 at stumps, still a mammoth 246 runs behind and with the entire top six back in the hutch.
There might only be three wickets between England and retaining the Urn as Ryan Harris, the Australian seamer, needs surgery on a stress fracture to his ankle and is unlikely to bat.
Trott marches on
England added 79 to their overnight total with Jonathan Trott’s measured march towards another landmark total undisturbed as he finished unbeaten on 168.
Matt Prior failed to join the list of series centurions though, falling to Peter Siddle for 85, just ten more than his overnight score.
Graeme Swann added an entertaining 22 but the tourists were dismissed before lunch.
Siddle, bowing with typical gusto on his home ground, finished with 6-75 and was by far the standout Australian bowler.
Bresnan drives England
Australia made an aggressive start to their unlikely chase as under pressure opener Phil Hughes and Shane Watson rattled to 50 with a succession of streaky boundaries.
The pair gifted England a breakthrough though when Watson called his partner through for a risky single only to see Jonathan Trott complete his second run out of the series.
In conditions still suited to batting England were superb – stifling the flow of runs with accuracy while continuing to threaten on a largely benign MCG surface.
As has often been the case Shane Watson fell shortly after passing his half century, when he shouldered arms and played no shot to a reverse swinging delivery from Bresnan which trapped him LBW.
Watson referred the decision but was soon sent packing and he was joined in the pavilion three runs later by his captain Ricky Ponting, who became Bresnan’s second victim.
Bresnan’s wonderful spell was completed when Ian Bell took a superb catch at short cover to remove England’s nemesis in this series, Mike Hussey for a duck.
England almost home
Michael Clarke showed some stubborn resistance but looked far from recapturing his best form and was dismissed for 13 by Swann – caught at second slip by Andrew Strauss.
Swann bowled superbly with 11 maidens from his 22 overs, exerting the kind of control which captains crave from spin bowlers in Australian conditions.
James Anderson popped up to dismiss Steve Smith, 38, with time running out on the day which ensured beyond doubt that Strauss’ side will secure the Ashes before the final Test at Sydney next week.