SYDNEY // England closed to within 113 runs of an innings lead over a battling Australia on today, edging an engrossing second day of the final Ashes Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
The tourists, chasing their first series win Down Under in 24 years, got off to a blistering start with a 98-run opening partnership before Australia struck back with three wickets, including the prize scalp of Kevin Pietersen.
Michael Clarke's Australians, playing to level the series after failing to regain the Ashes, could have been in an even better position at stumps had they not had a crucial fourth wicket taken off them by an umpire's referral.
At the close, England were 167 for three in reply to Australia's 280, with Alastair Cook unbeaten on 61 and nightwatchman James Anderson not out one.
"It's pretty evens-stevens, it's slightly in our favour, it's a real tough one to call," Anderson said.
"We have a crucial morning session tomorrow to get through and hopefully we can get up towards them and then get a decent lead."
Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott were out seven balls apart and Pietersen threw away his wicket on 36 when he was caught hooking.
England could have been four down at close after debutant Michael Beer celebrated what he thought was his first Test wicket when Cook, then on 45, skied to Ben Hilfenhaus at deep mid-on only for umpire Billy Bowden to ask for the third umpire to check on a suspected no-ball.
Replays showed spinner had overstepped and Cook stayed.
"I think [Beer] handled it very well in the end," the Australian paceman Mitchell Johnson said.
"It was disappointing for him that he didn't get his first wicket. It would have been a good wicket to get, too, being Cook.
"Hopefully, we'll get a little bit of luck go our way as well. They had a bit of luck go their way, but that's the way cricket goes."
It was the second time in the series that England have benefited from such a reprieve after Matt Prior was recalled following a slip catch in the fourth Melbourne Test. Prior was on five at the time, and eventually scored 85.
Australia did not let the Cook decision knock their concentration and removed the dangerous Pietersen, who failed to keep down a hook shot off a Johnson bouncer and was caught by Beer at deep backward square.
Hilfenhaus got the first breakthrough of the innings bowling Strauss for 60 with an unplayable ball that collected his off-stump.
Strauss and Cook had put on 98 in 92 minutes with skipper Strauss leading the charge in an aggressive innings, hammering eight fours and a six off 58 balls.
Trott was out for his first Test duck in Johnson's next over, getting a thick inside edge on to his stumps.
Earlier Johnson and Hilfenhaus salvaged the home side's first innings with some lusty hitting after lunch in a lively 76-run partnership for the ninth wicket.
In three balls, Hilfenhaus smashed Tim Bresnan for a six over long-on and Johnson lofted spinner Graeme Swann into the stands and followed up by coming down the wicket to clobber Swann for four.
Their rear-guard heroics boosted Australia's score after the home side had teetered at 189 for eight.
Johnson was eventually bowled by Bresnan for 53 off 66 balls and Hilfenhaus was caught behind off Anderson for 34 from 58 balls.
Up until Hilfenhaus and Johnson's lively cameo, England had held the upper hand with disciplined bowling claiming the wickets of Brad Haddin, Mike Hussey, Steven Smith and Peter Siddle.
Haddin paid for not using his feet and edged an Anderson out-swinger to Prior for six.
Hussey and Smith were tied down by accurate line and length bowling and keen fielding before part-time bowler Paul Collingwood grabbed the vital wicket of Hussey.
Hussey got an inside edge off his bat and thigh onto his stumps for a battling 33 off 92 balls.
Smith was deceived into going after an Anderson out-swinger and found Collingwood at slip for 18 runs off 53 balls.
Siddle lasted only four balls before he was snapped up by Strauss at slip for two off, again of Anderson, who finished with an impressive 4-66 off 30.1 overs.
England, who lead the series 2-1, outplayed Australia in Adelaide and Melbourne while Australia won the third Test in Perth. The first Brisbane Test was drawn.
England were the last team to beat Australia at the SCG, in 2003.