Australia kept their Ashes-saving mission alive and kicking at Old Trafford, with Mitchell Starc rising to take three big England wickets.
Needing to win the third Test to avoid a third-straight Ashes series defeat, Australia dug in and toiled hard under trying circumstances on day three to remain in firm control.
Starc (3-75) didn’t bowl well for much of the day, but in dismissing Alastair Cook just before lunch and trapping century-maker Kevin Pietersen lbw in the final half hour of play – the left-armer made all the difference for Australia.
Fast bowling warrior Ryan Harris (2-50) was also crucial, getting Australia off to a flyer by getting rid of Jonathan Trott early and then after tea ripping through the stumps of Ian Bell, the best performed batsman of the series.
At stumps England were 7-294 from 120 overs, still trailing on the first innings by 233.
England are 34-runs away from avoiding the follow-on, and regardless of whether Australia would look to enforce it or not, they need to get Matt Prior (6 not out) and Stuart Broad (9no) cheaply and keep the game moving with rain never far away in Manchester.
With Australia decimated by 347 runs at Lord’s, and staring down the barrel of their worst losing streak in Test history, it was a courageous performance.
Pietersen made a brilliant 113 with 12 fours and two sixes, and Australia were left to rue a sinking moment in the 73rd over when they decided against challenging a not out lbw shout from Shane Watson. A review would have sent England’s best batsman back to the pavilion for 62.
England would have been 5-176 – and the pivotal Pietersen and Bell partnership would have been broken.
Instead the danger pair went on to put on 115 before a brave Australia, led by Starc and Harris, came again.
On a flat wicket, it was tough going for the seamers, especially with Nathan Lyon (0-77) struggling to have any impact.
The spinner was being relied upon to deliver on a wicket offering turn and bounce, but he was taken to the cleaners by Pietersen and Bell in particular.
Pietersen launched him for two straight sixes to bring up 50 and Australia will be hoping Lyon can pick himself up off the canvas for the second innings.
After posting 7(dec)-527, Australia had rammed home their advantage when they had England 4-119 at lunch.
But the Pietersen-Bell partnership soon became demoralising, especially after Australia’s latest DRS heartbreak.
It was a crucial opportunity missed, but not one Australia could beat themselves up over too much, given how far Pietersen had come out of his crease.
Watson, who has been accused of selfishness with DRS when batting, wanted the decision reviewed, but wicketkeeper Brad Haddin and captain Michael Clarke believed the ball was going down leg.
A ball later, Clarke turned to the dressing room to ask if they’d made the right call.
An ashen-faced Darren Lehmann raised his finger to indicate Pietersen would have been out, and Clarke thrashed his arm through the air and cursed in anger.
Australia stayed down in the dumps for a while, but eventually got back to business to ensure it wouldn’t go down as the turning point.