MANCHESTER - Australia captain Michael Clarke led from the front with an unbeaten century as England fell foul of the Decision Review System on the first day of the third Test at Old Trafford. Clarke's 125 not out, the first hundred by an Australian this series, helped the tourists to 303 for three at Thursday's close in a match his side, 2-0 down with three to play, must win to have any hope of regaining the Ashes.

Together with Steven Smith, who survived both of England's DRS referrals for the innings on his way to 70 not out, Clarke shared an unbroken fourth-wicket stand of 174 as Australia enjoyed their best day of the series so far. Earlier, opener Chris Rogers made 84. England took two wickets in quick succession as 76 for one became 82 for two but this day belonged to Australia.

Clarke won the toss and batted despite Australia being dismissed for just 128 in the first innings of their 347-run second Test defeat at Lord's. However, the combination of a good pitch and sunny conditions meant there was plenty of justification for Clarke's decision. Australia had lost their last six Tests coming into this match, their worst run since 1984 when Kim Hughes tearfully resigned as captain.

But before this fixture the 32-year-old Clarke insisted neither Australia's plight nor his longstanding back problem would force him to quit prematurely. Although Australia recalled David Warner, usually an opening batsman, they stuck with all-rounder Shane Watson and Rogers as their first wicket duo. The pair responded by putting on 76 before Watson, on 19, pushed forward to seamer Tim Bresnan and edged to England captain Alastair Cook at first slip. Soon afterwards, Usman Khawaja was caught behind off spinner Graeme Swann. Khawaja reviewed on-field umpire Tony Hill's decision and while the Hot Spot thermal imaging did not appear to show an edge, there was a noise on audio. After several minutes' study, third umpire Kumar Dharmasena upheld Hill's verdict in the latest controversial DRS call this series.

The 35-year-old Rogers was in sight of a maiden Test hundred before a well-spun Swann delivery had him lbw to end the left-hander's 114 balls innings, which featured 14 fours. Smith was on nought when Swann had an lbw appeal rejected by New Zealand's Hill. As the DRS indicated the ball was only clipping leg stump, his decision was backed by Sri Lanka's Dharmasena after England reviewed.

Meanwhile the 32-year-old Clarke showed why he is one of the world's best players of spin by several times advancing from his crease to drive Swann for well-struck boundaries. Wicketkeeper Matt Prior was convinced he'd caught Smith, on 18, off James Anderson and England reviewed Marais Erasmus's original not out call before technology proved the South African right. It was a decision that came back to haunt England after tea when paceman Stuart Broad appealed for lbw against Smith, then on 24, only for Hill to rule in the batsman's favour.

Replays showed the ball hitting middle stump but there was nothing England could do as they'd used up their reviews. Clarke, however, was in command and his single off Swann saw him to a 169-ball hundred with 13 fours in just under four hours.

It was his 24th century in 94 Tests and a timely one too as the previous best score by an Australian this series had been Ashton Agar's 98 -- the highest by any Test No 11 -- in the opening match at Trent Bridge.

But after going wicketless at Lord's, slow left-armer Agar was replaced by off-spinner Nathan Lyon at Old Trafford. Smith, offering excellent support to his captain, completed a 115-ball fifty before greeting the new ball by striking Anderson past mid-on for four.

Scoreboard

AUSTRALIA 1ST INNINGS:

S Watson c Cook b Bresnan    19

C Rogers lbw b Swann    84

U Khawaja c Prior b Swann    1

M Clarke not out    125

S Smith not out    70

EXTRAS: (lb4)    4

TOTAL: (3 wkts, 90 overs)    303

FOW: 1-76, 2-82, 3-129

BOWLING: Anderson 21-4-72-0; Broad 21-3-80-0; Bresnan 20-5-51-1; Swann 25-2-82-2; Root 2-0-8-0; Trott 1-0-6-0

ENGLAND: Alastair Cook (capt), Joe Root, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Jonny Bairstow, Matt Prior (wkt), Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson

TOSS: Australia

UMPIRES: Marais Erasmus (RSA), Tony Hill (NZL)

TV UMPIRE: Kumar Dharmasena (SRI)

MATCH REFEREE: Ranjan Madugalle (SRI)