The Ashes holders were set an improbable target of 531 runs over the final two days to prevent the rampant Australians from charging to a two-nil lead in the five-Test series.

Joe Root, elevated to the number three spot vacated by Jonathan Trott, showed plenty of fight to hold out for 267 minutes for 87 while Kevin Pietersen contributed 53 off 99 balls. “If there’s a bit of weather about I think we might be able to (save it),” Root said 

Root played back to spinner Nathan Lyon and got an inside edge that ran off his pad for wicketkeeper Brad Haddin to dive forward and take his 200th Test catch.

The tourists will go into Monday without their frontline batsmen after a tense day’s cricket. Rain is forecast on the final day. At the close, England were fighting hard at 247 for six with Matt Prior on 31 and Stuart Broad not out 22.

They trailed Australia by 284 runs. “We know it’s not going to be easy, the boys at the lower end have troubled us in the past so we’ve got to come prepared, be switched on and give it to them early in the morning,” Aussie pacer Peter Siddle said.