Steve Smith’s maiden Test century all but ensured an historic 4-0 Ashes success was out of England’s grasp but Australia’s lack of penetration with the new ball suggested their first win of the series may also be slipping off the agenda.
Following on from Shane Watson’s redemptive 176 on Day One, Smith made 138 not out to steer the tourists to 492 for nine declared at The Oval.
But in order to turn that total into a winning position Australia need England’s batting to fold, with Alastair Cook (17no) and Joe Root (13no) unwilling to oblige in the evening session.
The hosts, who have already wrapped up the series by going 3-0 up at Durham, reached 32 without loss when bad light brought things to a close.
With rain washing out the morning session and costing spectators 27 overs, Australia may now need to force the game to set up a result.
If weather intervenes again, as it is forecast to do tomorrow, a triumphant series for Cook’s side could have a regrettably low-key finale.
Regardless of the result, Smith will take great heart from his first Test ton and will approach the return series this winter with renewed confidence.
The same cannot be said of England’s surprise debutants in this match, Chris Woakes and Simon Kerrigan.
Having been mercilessly bullied by Watson on Wednesday, slow left-armer Kerrigan was not asked to bowl again and seems further away from a winter tour than he was at the start of the week.
Woakes did manage to celebrate a first wicket at the highest level, that of Australian newcomer James Faulkner, but figures of one for 96 in 24 overs do not bode well for the Warwickshire all-rounder.
Australia 1st Innings (overnight: 307-4)
C Rogers c Trott b Swann 23
D Warner c Prior b Anderson 6
S Watson c Pietersen
b Broad 176
M Clarke b Anderson 7
S Smith not out 138
P Siddle b Anderson 23
B Haddin b Trott 30
J Faulkner c Trott b Woakes 23
M Starc b Swann 13
R Harris c and b Anderson 33
N Lyon not out 0
Extras (b1, lb12, w2, nb5) 20
Total (9 wkts dec, 128.5 overs, 574 mins) 492
Fall of wickets: 1-11 (Warner), 2-118 (Rogers), 3-144 (Clarke), 4-289 (Watson), 5-320 (Siddle), 6-385 (Haddin), 7-423 (Faulkner), 8-446 (Starc),
Anderson 29.5-4-95-4 (1w), Broad 31-4-128-1 (4nb), Swann 33-4-95-2, Woakes 24-7-96-1 (1w), Kerrigan 8-0-53-0 (1nb), Trott 3-0-12-1
England 1st Innings
A Cook not out 17
J Root not out 13
Extras (b1, lb1) 2
Total (17.3 overs) 32
Fall of wickets: -
M Starc 5-1-10-0, R Harris 4-3-2-0, J Faulkner 3-0-8-0, P Siddle 5.3-1-10-0