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Australians inch closer to regaining the Ashes

Perth: A dominant Australia were five wickets away from reclaiming the Ashes after hammering England with the bat and reducing them to 251 for five with the ball at the end of the fourth day of the third Test, at the WACA, on Monday.

Ben Stokes, who had scored his maiden Test half-century and was batting on 72 not out, and Matt Prior, batting on seven, were at the crease. But the visitors were still 252 runs behind and will need to bat through the final day to save the Test and keep the series alive.

Shane Watson earlier smashed 73 runs off 40 balls for a spectacular century and George Bailey equalled the Test record for most runs from a single over before Australia declared at 369 for six some 40 minutes before lunch. Bailey equalled Brian Lara’s record of taking 28 runs off an over, hitting James Anderson for three sixes and two fours.

Requiring 504 runs for an unlikely victory, Ryan Harris sensationally bowled Alastair Cook for a golden duck with the first ball of England’s second innings.

After lunch, Michael Carberry made 31 before being adjudged leg before off the bowling of Watson, while Joe Root scored 19 before he was brilliantly caught behind by Brad Haddin off Mitchell Johnson.

Kevin Pietersen was well set on 45 when, in a move unlikely to appease his critics, he strode down the wicket to take on off-spinner Nathan Lyon, sending the ball high into the sky, but failing to clear Harris at the long-on boundary.

Ian Bell (60) put on 99 runs with Stokes for the fifth wicket before an Australian challenge overturned a not out verdict when the TV umpire determined his attempted uppercut had nicked a Peter Siddle delivery to Haddin.

It was the morning of intense drama and some high farce, though, that put Australia firmly on track for a victory that would give them an unassailable 3-0 series lead and ensure the return of the urn.

The hosts resumed 369 runs ahead at 235 for three and Watson, who started the day on 29, signalled his team’s intent with two fours and a six off the first over from Graeme Swann. Watson has struggled to convert 50s into centuries, but there seemed little doubt that he would do so as three sixes and a four off another Swann over took him from 60 to 82.