LONDON - Australia reduced England to 203 for six to move to the brink of a consolation victory on the third day of the final Ashes test at The Oval on Saturday.

England captain Alastair Cook made a brave 85 before falling to Steve Smith shortly before the close and the touring side, 129 runs ahead, need four more wickets to end the series on a high after relinquishing the urn. England, following on 332 runs behind, lost Adam Lyth (10), Ian Bell (13) and Joe Root (11) cheaply in warm sunshine in south London. Jonny Bairstow made 26 but he and Ben Stokes (nought) fell in the same over from spinner Nathan Lyon to leave Australia on course to win inside three days.

Cook, however, had other ideas and he and Jos Buttler added 59 to give the hosts an outside chance of saving the match with rain forecast over the next two days. Just 15 runs short of his first century of the series, Cook pushed tentatively forward to part-time leg-spinner Smith and Voges pouched the catch at short leg to end the England captain's five-hour stay at the crease.

Australia's fired-up pace attack had ripped through England's top order. Lyth was caught by Michael Clarke at second slip off Peter Siddle, continuing a wretched run of form for the England opener who will surely be dropped after failing to pass fifty in the series. Bell never looked comfortable before fending a snorting delivery from Mitchell Marsh to captain Clarke.

Root also struggled to cope with Australia's pace attack and hooked a short ball from Mitchell Johnson to Mitchell Starc at long leg. Cook took 27 balls to score his first run and batted with watchful intent, determined to avoid a repeat of the collapse England suffered on Friday when they lost seven wickets in the evening session. He was quick to punish the rare bad balls, however, and hit nine fours on the way to a half-century off 119 deliveries.

Bairstow rode his luck in a stand of 41 with Cook but he was deceived by a ball from Lyon which bounced awkwardly and was well caught at the second attempt by Voges at short leg. Stokes survived only four deliveries before tamely edging Lyon to Clarke at slip.

Buttler was 33 not out at the close with Mark Wood on nought.

Earlier, Moeen Ali and Wood extended their ninth-wicket partnership in England's first innings to 57 with a flurry of boundaries in the morning. Wood struck six fours in his 24 before he attempted to pull Johnson and spooned a catch to Starc at mid-on. Moeen, England's top scorer with 30, edged Johnson's next delivery to wicketkeeper Peter Nevill to end the innings on 149 and Clarke, playing his final test, had no hesitation in enforcing the follow-on. England lead the series 3-1.

Scoreboard

AUSTRALIA 1ST INNINGS: 481

ENGLAND 1ST INNINGS:

(OVERNIGHT: 107-8)

A. Lyth c Starc b Siddle 19

A. Cook b Lyon 22

I. Bell b Siddle 10

J. Root c Nevill b Marsh 6

J. Bairstow c Lyon b Johnson 13

B. Stokes c Nevill b Marsh 15

J. Buttler b Lyon 1

M. Ali c Nevill b Johnson 30

S. Broad c Voges b Marsh 0

M. Wood c Starc b Johnson 24

S. Finn not out 0

EXTRAS: (b1, lb7, nb1) 9

TOTAL: (all out, 48.4 overs) 149

FOW: 1-30, 2-46, 3-60, 4-64, 5-83, 6-84, 7-92, 8-92, 9-149, 10-149.

BOWLING: Starc 8-3-18-0; Johnson 8.4-4-21-3; Lyon 10-2-40-2; Siddle 13-5-32-2; Marsh 9-2-30-3.

ENGLAND 2ND INNINGS:

(Following-On)

A Lyth c Clarke b Siddle 10

A Cook c Voges b Smith 85

I Bell c Clarke b M Marsh 13

J Root c Starc b Johnson 11

J Bairstow c Voges b Lyon 26

B Stokes c Clarke b Lyon 0

J Buttler not out 33

M Wood not out 0

EXTRAS: (b-5 lb-14 nb-1 w-5) 25

TOTAL: (for 6 wkts, 79 overs) 203

FOW: 1-19, 2-62, 3-99, 4-140, 5-140, 6-199

BOWLING: M Johnson 13-2-51-1, M Starc 14-4-32-0, N Lyon 25-5-52-2, P Siddle 16-10-14-1, M Marsh 10-4-28-1, S Smith 1-0-7-1.

TOSS: England