Ben Stokes keeps England alive, but Australia close in on Ashes
Rookie cracks maiden 50 as visitors were 251 for five at stumps on day four
Rookie Ben Stokes kept England's faint hopes alive with his maiden test half-century as the visitors fought to save the Ashes series against a rampant Australia yesterday.
Set an improbable 504 to win, England were 251 for five at stumps on day four, still 252 runs behind with just five wickets in hand on a heavily cracked Perth pitch.
Stokes, playing his second test, was providing resistance on 72, with wicketkeeper Matt Prior on seven and all of England's top order back in the pavilion.
Australia will be heavily favoured to mop up England's tail on the final day and regain the famous Ashes urn for the first time since 2007 after their big wins in Brisbane and Adelaide.
But senior England batsman Ian Bell said all hope was not yet lost. "We are still hanging in there, that is the important thing," Bell said. "We need to take tomorrow as deep as we can and keep playing some shots.
"The two guys that are out there now need to bat until lunch and we need to keep fighting."
Bell conceded Australia had outplayed England in all facets of the game so far in the series.
"We are hugely disappointed and we haven't shown anyone the kind of cricket that we can potentially play," he said.
"Hats off to Australia, they have batted better than us, they've caught better than us and they have bowled better than us."
All-rounder Shane Watson, who thrashed his fourth test century earlier in the day, said the Australians were trying not to think how close the Ashes were but were extremely confident with the new ball just 13 overs away.
"This is a special moment for everyone in the Australian team, to be in the position that we are," he said. "But we know that the English are always going to fight until the end."
Most of the lingering optimism for England dried up after tea, when Kevin Pietersen again fell to a rash shot and then Bell was given out on a successful decision review by the home side.
After a catastrophic day for the tourists on Sunday, when they gave a big lead to the Australians, things only got worse on day four.
Watson and George Bailey humiliated the England attack before Australia declared on 369 for six, making England the first team to be set a target of more than 500 in three successive tests.