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England look to the heavens as Australia surge for the urn

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Swann: Would like England to save it without rain (1:26)

Graeme Swann and Melinda Farrell discuss if rain will give England a hope of keeping the Ashes series alive. (1:26)

England 403 and 4 for 132 (Malan 28*, Bairstow 14*) trail Australia 9 for 662 dec (Smith 239, M Marsh 181, Khawaja 50, Anderson 4-116) by 127 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

The idea that Brits love to talk incessantly about the weather is more than a persistent national stereotype. Two years ago, research showed that at any given moment, one third of the UK population were either discussing the weather, or had just done so, or were about to. It is a trait that may serve them well ahead of the final day in Perth, where Monday's forecast is for a morning storm and up to 15 millimetres of rain. And therein lies England's hope of holding on to the urn a little longer.

The state of play was this: Australia needed six wickets to win, while England required a further 127 runs to make Australia bat again. The pitch was cracking up, the occasional ball jagging so far that fast bowlers looked like legspinners and the odd delivery staying low, just to add to the challenge. Mitchell Starc bowled James Vince from around the wicket with a ball that bit so sharply off the pitch it changed its angle from down leg to demolishing off stump, and left Vince glancing at the pitch with the same sort of mystified look that Mike Gatting had against Shane Warne in 1993.

In short, this would not be an easy task for England, if the rain stayed away. Dawid Malan was on 28 and Jonny Bairstow had 14, and England were on 4 for 132. Earlier, Australia had piled up 9 for 662 before they declared. It was the ninth-highest total in Australia's Test history, and their heftiest score since the Cardiff Ashes Test of 2009, when they amassed 6 for 674 in their second innings. England fans will remember that their side clung on for a draw on that occasion.

This time, Australia had earned themselves a 259-run first-innings lead. It was almost true to say that Steven Smith was the difference between the teams, for he himself had accumulated a career-best 239. The day began with some positive signs for England, as they plucked out Mitchell Marsh for 181, removed Smith, and ran out Starc within the first five overs. And the day ended early with Perth's wet weather giving Malan and Bairstow a reprieve. But not much that went in between was good for England.

In the second over of their reply, England lost Mark Stoneman, who flirted tamely outside off stump and edged behind off Josh Hazlewood. In the eighth over, Alastair Cook was brilliantly caught and bowled by Hazlewood, who grabbed the chance low and to his right, continuing Cook's recent run of poor form. Cook has now failed to pass fifty in any of his past 10 Test innings, and in fact has crossed 30 only once during that time. His double-century against West Indies in August seems of a different time.

The loss of Joe Root for 14 compounded England's problems and left them at 3 for 60. Root was dismissed from Nathan Lyon's first ball of the innings, caught at slip after his edge ricocheted off the wicketkeeper Tim Paine. Vince played with impressive intent in scoring 12 boundaries during his 55, but there was nothing - literally nothing - that he could have done to prevent himself being bowled by Starc. Any batsman would have assumed the ball was sailing down leg, so Vince shaped to glance, only to lose his off stump.

The early wickets of Marsh, Smith and Starc had given England hope of running through Australia's lower order, but Paine and Pat Cummins refused to budge, and compiled a 93-run stand that continued to frustrate England. Cummins made 41, his fourth score in the forties this series, and at the end of his innings he had accumulated precisely twice as many runs in this series as Cook, and had even done so from one fewer innings. Cummins was lbw to Anderson and Paine finished not out on 49 when Lyon skied a catch to give Anderson his fourth wicket.

It was Anderson who had trapped Marsh lbw from the second ball of the day, and then also had Smith lbw shortly afterwards with a delivery that angled in and then straightened. Marsh had been denied a double-century and Smith a 250, but their 301-run partnership had been enough to put Australia within reach of the urn. Starc was run out in a mix-up with Paine, perhaps distracted by another vociferous lbw appeal, but it was England's last breakthrough for more than 20 overs.

Along the way, England became just the eighth team in Test history to have five bowlers all concede 100 runs in the same innings, and Anderson and Broad became the only bowlers to have twice been part of such a scoreline, having also done so in that Cardiff Test of 2009. But if England find a way to produce the same result here, they won't mind a bit. A draw would keep them alive in the series, though they would have to win in Melbourne and Sydney to retain the Ashes. But a slim hope is better than none. For now, at least 11 Brits will be taking a close look at the weather forecast.