WACA Test: England hang on as Aussies close in on the Ashes
Perth: Rookie Ben Stokes kept England`s faint hopes alive with his maiden Test half-century as the visitors fought to save the Ashes series against a rampant Australia Monday.
Set an improbable 504 to win, England were 251 for five at stumps on day four, still 252 runs behind with just five wickets in hand on a heavily cracked Perth pitch.
Stokes, playing just his second Test, was providing resistance on 72, with wicketkeeper Matt Prior on seven and all of England`s top order back in the pavilion.
Australia will be heavily favoured to mop up England`s tail on the final day and regain the famous Ashes urn for the first time since 2007 after their big wins in Brisbane and Adelaide.
Most of the lingering optimism for England dried up after tea, when Kevin Pietersen again fell to a rash shot and then Ian Bell was given out on a successful decision review by the home side.
After a catastrophic day for the tourists on Sunday, when they conceded a big lead to the Australians, things only got worse for them on day four.
Centurion Shane Watson and George Bailey humiliated the England attack before Australia declared on 369 for six, making them the first team to be set a target of more than 500 in three successive Tests.
England`s chase then got off to a disastrous start when captain Alastair Cook fell for a golden duck, the first of his 100-Test career, from the first ball of their second innings.
Cook, clean-bowled by a beauty from Ryan Harris, also became the first player to suffer the ignominy of a first-ball duck in their centenary match.
Fellow opener Michael Carberry again looked solid, but was trapped lbw by Shane Watson for 31, while Joe Root defended grimly for 125 minutes before being caught behind off Mitchell Johnson for 19.
Root called for a review, but it showed a clear edge through to wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, who took a fine diving catch.
Pietersen looked in good touch in cruising to 45, but yet again fell victim to a rush of blood as he advanced down the wicket to spinner Nathan Lyon and tried to loft him down the ground for six, as he had done in the previous over.
Instead, he got under the ball and hit it high to long-off, where Harris remained composed and took a safe catch.
Bell and Stokes then set about trying to rescue the cause, putting on 99 for the fifth wicket before Bell, on 60, was adjudged caught behind on the evidence of the `snickometer` audio technology.
Umpire Marais Erasmus initially turned down the appeal, but Australia`s decision to risk its second decision review paid off when `snicko` revealed an edge as Bell flashed at a short ball outside his off stump.
One positive for England was the batting of Stokes, who was most impressive, playing some fine drives and not looking daunted by the pressure. By stumps, he had faced 96 balls, hitting 12 boundaries.
Earlier in the day, Australia declared their second innings at 369 for six after fireworks from Watson, who took just 40 balls to race from his overnight score of 29 to his fourth Test century, and Bailey, who equalled Brian Lara`s Test record with 28 runs off one Jimmy Anderson over.
With the injured Stuart Broad absent from the attack, England missed three catches as Australia belted 134 runs in 17 overs, with Watson making 103 and Bailey an unbeaten 39.