Perth: The Ashes was delicately poised today after Mitchell Johnson single-handedly lifted Australia back into contention with an inspired display of fast bowling on the second day of the third Test.
Derided in Brisbane and then dropped for Adelaide, Johnson (6-38) evoked memories of local fast bowling legend Dennis Lillee as he sliced through the England top order, with the tourists dismissed for 187.
England were in the box seat at the start of play at the WACA -- the home side had made just 268 on the opening day and England were cruising at 78-0 with openers Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss in command.
Johnson ran in for the first ball of his seventh over today with series figures of 0-187.
Twenty-seven balls later, the top run-scorer in the Australian first innings had the prized scalps of Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood in an unexpected four-wicket blitz that revived the home team`s hopes.
Facing a first innings deficit of 81, England fought back late in the day as the dismal form of Australian captain Ricky Ponting (1) and Michael Clarke (20) continued.
Disciplined batting from Shane Watson (61 not out) and Mike Hussey (24 not out) steadied the ship and the home side were 119-3 at stumps, an overall lead of 200 in a match where a result is highly likely.
If England win, they retain the Ashes, while an Australian win levels the series with two Tests to play, so the stakes are huge for the remainder of the match.
Cook (32) was the first to go, caught at gully by a diving Mike Hussey as he attempted to drive at the first ball of Johnson`s seventh over.
The Australian took the catch low to the ground and Cook simply asked the fielder if he had caught it cleanly, accepting Hussey`s word before heading off rather than challenging the decision.
Johnson was getting late swing and trapped Trott lbw for just four in his next over, before sending dangerman Kevin Pietersen, coming off a double-century in Adelaide, back to the pavilion, lbw for a duck to claim his third wicket in 12 balls.
Pietersen challenged the decision without success. Ryan Harris (3-59) then joined the party to remove Strauss, who should have been caught behind from the same bowler on 16, for 52.
When Collingwood (five) was given out lbw to the resurgent Johnson on a challenge by the Australians, England had lost five wickets for 20 runs to slip to 98-5.
England recovered slightly, but then lost their last four wickets for just six runs, with Johnson picking up Chris Tremlett and James Anderson to complete a stunning form reversal for both team and player.