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Australia close to Ashes glory as England lose three wickets

© AFP | Jonny Bairstow runs off the field on 14 as rain halts play on day four of the third Test in Perth, with England behind by 127 runs

PERTH (AUSTRALIA) (AFP) - 

Australia had one hand on the Ashes at stumps on the fourth day of the third Test against England in Perth on Sunday.

Trailing by 259 runs in the first innings after Australia declared at 662 for nine, England were 132 for four when stumps was called early after a rain-interrupted final session, with Dawid Malan on 28 and Jonny Bairstow on 14, still behind by 127 runs.

The home side lead the five-Test series 2-0 and a win in the last-ever Ashes Test to be played at the WACA Ground would see them regain the urn.

England's best hopes of staying alive would appear to rest with the weather, and there was a loud cheer from England fans when the forecast rain first arrived just minutes before tea.

More rain is forecast on the final day, although it is only predicted to be a problem before lunchtime.

The tourists' second innings got off to a dismal start when opener Mark Stoneman was caught behind from the bowling of Josh Hazlewood for just three in the second over.

Alastair Cook's woes then continued when Hazlewood snared a brilliant one-handed return catch to remove him for 14, leaving the former skipper with just 83 runs at 13.83 for the series.

Captain Joe Root was the third man out, to spinner Nathan Lyon's first ball of the innings, caught at first slip by his Australian counterpart Steve Smith for 14 off the glove of wicketkeeper Tim Paine.

James Vince looked impressive in making 55, but there was little he could do when a Mitchell Starc delivery hit a crack and deviated sharply to crash into his stumps as England slumped to 100 for four.

Earlier Australia scored their highest Ashes total at home and fifth-highest against England.

Although Smith added just 10 to his overnight total before being dismissed for 239, his innings was the cornerstone of the massive total.

Smith was adjudged leg before wicket on review after James Anderson's confident shout was turned down by on-field umpire Chris Gaffaney.

The review ended a chanceless 399-ball epic innings which included 30 fours and one six.

The other overnight batsman, Mitchell Marsh, had departed a few minutes earlier -- failing to add to his 181 when he was trapped leg before wicket by Anderson to end a 301-run partnership with Smith.

Australia then had Mitchell Starc run out for one as they lost three wickets for 12 runs.

They were also lucky not to lose Paine for 11 when he was given out looking plumb lbw to Anderson, only for a review to show the ball would have gone over the leg stump.

England have reportedly been unhappy with the decision review process in the match. According to one British newspaper they have lodged an official complaint after Mark Stoneman was given out contentiously by the third umpire, caught off his glove, in their first innings.

Anderson finished with four wickets, all claimed on day four, while Stuart Broad recorded career-worst figures of 0-142.

© 2017 AFP