England's bowlers continued to maintain a stranglehold on Australia's batsmen in the fourth test on Tuesday, leaving the visitors on the brink of a first successful Ashes tour in 24 years.
Needing 415 runs just to make England bat again, Australia's brittle top order disintegrated under pressure once more, limping to 169-6 at stumps in front of a despondent 68,000 Melbourne Cricket Ground crowd.
Australia, bundled out for 98 in the first innings, trail England by 246 runs and are odds-on favourites to become the first team to surrender the Ashes on home soil since Alan Border's side lost to the Mike Gatting-led England in 1986/87.
Brad Haddin (11) and Mitchell Johnson (6) survived the last few overs to stumps and face the unenviable task of staving off England's victory charge on day four.
Tim Bresnan, called into the side for Steve Finn, took three wickets in a brilliant spell after tea to leave Australia reeling on 104-4 before Graeme Swann and James Anderson took a wicket apiece to inflict further pain on the hosts.
"We've done well," a modest Yorkshireman Bresnan said. "We put a lot of hard work in. We've got a lot of work still to do tomorrow to finish the job and that's what we'll be looking to do."
One of Bresnan's wickets was Australia captain Ricky Ponting, who struggled to 20 before chopping onto his stumps, continuing a woeful run in a series in which his highest score remains an unbeaten 51 in the drawn first test in Brisbane.
Ponting apologised before taking the crease for his ugly remonstration with the umpires on Monday over a video referral, but no amount of mea culpas are likely to save the 36-year-old's captaincy or win forgiveness from a shattered Australian public for his team's performance.
He stands on the verge of becoming the first Australian skipper in more than 100 years to lose the Ashes three times and after scores of 10, 1, 12, 9 and 0 in his five previous innings, can no longer lean on his batting record to justify his tenure.
Australia's bowlers, to their credit, had earlier raced through England's last five wickets for the addition of 69 runs to have the tourists dismissed for 513 just before lunch.
Any hope of the bowlers inspiring the Australian batsmen were dashed when Shane Watson ran out opening partner Phillip Hughes for 23. The pair had notched 50 runs before Watson pushed to cover and called Hughes through for a single. Jonathan Trott, whose unbeaten 168 put England in command, swooped and flung the ball to keeper Matt Prior, with Hughes short of the crease.