A resurgent Australia looked all set to level the Ashes after a historic century by the reborn Mike Hussey in the third Test against England at the WACA Ground on Saturday.
At stumps on the third day England were in disarray at 81-5 in their second innings having been set 391 to win, with night-watchman James Anderson yet to score.
Up 1-0 in the series, England needed their biggest ever run chase to win the match and their hopes appeared forlorn after their top five -- Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood -- all went cheaply late in the day.
Cook was trapped lbw by Ryan Harris for 13 and Strauss (15) became Mitchell Johnson's seventh victim for the match when he nicked a ball to Australian captain Ricky Ponting in the slips.
Pietersen, dismissed for a duck in the first innings, made just three before being caught by Shane Watson at first slip from the bowling of Ben Hilfenhaus.
Just minutes before stumps, Trott fell to Johnson (2-28) for 31, caught by Brad Haddin on the rebound off the hands of Ponting, who immediately left the field with an injured finger on his left hand.
Then from the last ball of the day and without any addition to the score, Collingwood (11) was brilliantly caught by a diving Steven Smith in slips from the bowling of Harris (2-22).
If England can somehow conjure an unlikely win here they retain the Ashes, while an Australian win levels the series with two Tests to play.
England have only ever successfully chased 300 in the fourth innings three times in Test cricket.
Their biggest ever chase was back in 1928 at the MCG, when they made 332-7 to defeat Australia.
The Australian second innings of 309 was anchored by another brilliant effort from Hussey, who was the last man to fall for 116 and has 517 runs in the series at 103.40.
The left-hander, who was close to being dropped for the first Test at the Gabba, also became the first batsman in Ashes history to pass 50 in six consecutive innings.
He produced a number of classical pull shots during his innings, including one to bring up his 13th Test century and second of the series.
Hussey, who became recalled seamer Chris Tremlett's (5-87) fifth scalp of the innings and eighth for the match, batted for 315 minutes, faced 172 balls and hit 15 boundaries.
He had been given out lbw to Tremlett, from the last ball before lunch, but his challenge was successful after replays showed the ball was going over the stumps.
Opener Watson again fell agonisingly short of a Test century when trapped lbw by the impressive Tremlett for 95.
Watson, who was chasing his third Test century, fell in the 90s for the fourth time at the top level.
Watson challenged the decision and was clearly unhappy when it was upheld as he felt he had edged the delivery into his pad, but replays showed his bat actually made contact with the pad rather than the ball.
He had been at the crease for 241 minutes and 174 balls, hitting 11 boundaries, and combined with Hussey for the only century partnership of the match so far.