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Aussies poised to take series
Peter Siddle celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of England's Ian Bell. Picture: David Gray/Reuters

Australia need five wickets today to regain the Ashes and end one of the most tumultuous periods in this country's cricket history.

Six months after old-school graduate Darren Lehmann replaced sacked coach Mickey Arthur and Michael Clarke left the selection panel to remove the conflict with his role as captain, a resurgent Australia are poised to win the oldest trophy in the game.

England battled hard to take the third Test into the last day, but Australia are preparing to celebrate their first Ashes triumph after three consecutive series losses.

But Shane Watson, who blasted a remarkable century and then loomed as one of the main bowling dangers with his stump-to-stump seamers on the cracked surface, warned that Australia would have to bowl better to be confident of victory today.

"We didn't bowl as we would have liked in the last session," he said. "We weren't as consistent as we have been in the rest of the Test series. We know we just have to get back to what has given us success by bowling a fuller length and challenging a bit more than what we did this afternoon."

The WACA Ground was one of the few scenes of Australian success during the dire series in 2009, 2010-11 and earlier this year when England won eight and lost just two of the 15 Ashes contests.

A victory would also vindicate the senior Cricket Australia official who told the team on the way to Trent Bridge in July that winning in England was not as important as regaining the Ashes at home.

"Australia have batted better than us, they have caught better than us and have bowled better than us," England's No.5 batsman Ian Bell said.

But before Australia can celebrate the return of the urn, they must first get through Ben Stokes, who displayed considerable fighting spirit during his maiden half century to defy the home team when victory appeared likely last night.

Stokes (72 not out) and Matt Prior (7no) survived the final 30 minutes to drag England to 5-251.

England are still 253 short of the impossible target of 504, and a long 90 overs away from safety, but Stokes doused the immediate danger of the severely cracked WACA Ground pitch.

While the pitch was not directly responsible for any of the day's eight dismissals, increasing numbers of deliveries scuttled low on the crazed surface to provide a draining challenge for the batsmen today.

Stokes and Bell survived the clay maze long enough to put on 99 after Kevin Pietersen holed out in the deep to leave England in dire trouble at 4-121.

But Bell succumbed for 60 late in the day when he was given out caught behind on review trying to flick Peter Siddle over the slips.

The Hotspot evidence showed nothing, but there was enough of a smudge on the audio device for umpire Marais Erasmus to overturn his original reprieve.

The fates appeared to be with Australia when Ryan Harris bowled Alastair Cook with the first ball of the England reply.

It was a peach and as good as anything Harris had bowled in his career.

The delivery did not need the aid of the widening cracks, but swung in late and sharply before seaming away to hit off stump.

Watson underlined how batsmen could thrive on the pitch with a blazing century that allowed Clarke to declare before noon with his team on a commanding 6-369.

Watson's explosive 103 helped Australia put on 134 in 17 overs in the morning.

He took just 42 balls to move from his overnight 29 to his comical dismissal - run-out by bowler Tim Bresnan while stationary in the middle of the pitch watching Bell spill a skier only a few metres away.

"It was embarrassing," he said.

"It would have been better if Ian Bell had caught it in the first place."

Watson hammered 22 from one Graeme Swann over, while George Bailey (39no) later equalled Brian Lara's record for most runs in an over when he thrashed James Anderson for three sixes in a 28-run over that hastened the declaration.

"We know we just have to get back to what has given us success by bowling a fuller length …"" *Shane Watson *