BIRMINGHAM - Steven Finn took England to the verge of a stunning victory in the third Test against Australia at Edgbaston on Thursday and a 2-1 Ashes series lead.

At the close of a remarkable second day, Australia were 168 for seven in their second innings -- a lead of just 23 runs -- with three wickets standing and three days left to play. Middlesex fast bowler Finn, recalled for his first Test since 2013, had taken five wickets for 45 runs in 13 overs following his two for 38 in Australia's meagre first innings 136. Opener David Warner struck a defiant 77 on Thursday, one of only three double-figure scores so far in Australia's second innings.

Peter Nevill was 37 not out after being dropped on 35 when opposing wicket-keeper Jos Buttler failed to hold what would have been a stunning diving catch off Stuart Broad. Mitchell Starc was unbeaten on seven. A mere 19 matches in the 138-year history of Test cricket had ended inside two days, with the last occurrence in England when the West Indies were beaten by an innings and 39 runs at Headingley in 2000. But a side strain suffered midway through his ninth over by James Anderson -- on his 33rd birthday -- hampered England's hopes of adding to that list.

Finn, however, returned to remove Mitchell Johnson (14) with the first ball of his new spell when the batsman sliced to point before Nevill and Starc saw out the day. The first two days of this match have witnessed a remarkable turnaround from England's humiliating 405-run defeat in the second Test at Lord's which saw Australia level the five-match series at 1-1. But whereas that clash had taken place on a largely placid pitch, the course of this Test owed much to Australia captain Michael Clarke's decision to bat first on a seaming surface offering sideways movement.

Anderson, England's all-time most successful Test bowler but wicketless at Lord's, led the way with an Ashes-best six for 47 in a first innings that lasted a mere 36.4 overs. England couldn't quite rival that display on Thursday but seven wickets in 55 overs was still an impressive haul. Veteran opener Chris Rogers, whose 52 had been the lone batting highlight of Australia's first innings, fell for six when he was lbw to paceman Broad. Finn was infamously deemed "unselectable" by then England one-day coach Ashley Giles when sent home early from the woeful 2013/14 tour of Australia which included a 5-0 Ashes defeat. But he was near unplayable at times on Thursday as he dismissed both Steven Smith and struggling Clarke for the second time in the match. Smith, the world's number one ranked Test batsman, went for eight, to follow his first innings seven, when a skyed pull was held by Buttler. Finn then took two wickets in two balls.

Clarke was well caught by third slip Adam Lyth for three -- his latest low score meaning the Australia skipper's past 27 Test innings had produced just two fifties. Next ball Adam Voges edged Finn to second slip Ian Bell for a duck. Mitchell Marsh (six) survived the hat-trick but it wasn't long before he was bowled by Finn who had then taken three for 12 in 17 balls. All the while Warner attacked but, trying to turn Anderson legside, the left-hander ballooned a catch to Lyth in the covers to end a 49-ball innings, including 10 fours.

Australia had lost their sixth wicket on England's supposedly 'unlucky' number of 111. After England resumed on their overnight 133 for three, Johnson took two wickets -- including his 300th in Tests -- in three balls as both Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes gloved sharply rising deliveries through to Nevill. But Joe Root (63) and Moeen Ali, with a dashing 59, helped England to a total of 281 and a first-innings lead of 145.




(OVERNIGHT: 133-3):

A Lyth c Voges b Hazlewood 10

A Cook c Voges b Lyon 34

I Bell c Warner b Lyon 53

J Root c Voges b Starc 63

J Bairstow c Nevill b Johnson 5

B Stokes c Nevill b Johnson 0

J Buttler lbw b Lyon 9

M Ali c Warner b Hazlewood 59

S Broad c Marsh b Hazlewood 31

S Finn not out 0

J Anderson c Nevill b Starc 3

EXTRAS: (b6, lb4, w4) 14

TOTAL: (all out, 67.1 overs) 281

FOW: 1-19, 2-76, 3-132, 4-142, 5-142, 6-182, 7-190, 8-277, 9-278, 10-281

BOWLING: Starc 16.1-1-71-2 (3w); Hazlewood 15-0-74-3; Johnson 16-2-66-2 (1w); Marsh 7-2-24-0; Lyon 13-2-36-3


C Rogers lbw b Broad 6

D Warner c Lyth b Anderson 77

S Smith c Buttler b Finn 8

M Clarke c Lyth b Finn 3

A Voges c Bell b Finn 0

M Marsh b Finn 6

P Nevill not out 37

M Johnson c Stokes b Finn 14

M Starc not out 7

EXTRAS: (b-2 lb-8) 10

TOTAL: (for 7 wickets, 55 overs) 168

FOW: 1-17, 2-62, 3-76, 4-76, 5-92, 6-111, 7-153.

BOWLING: J Anderson 8.3-5-15-1, S Broad 14-3-36-1, S Finn 13-3-45-5, M Ali 10-2-37-0, B Stokes 8-1-23-0, J Root 1.3-0-2-0.

TOSS: Australia

UMPIRES: Aleem Dar, Chris Gaffaney

TV UMPIRE: Marais Erasmus

MATCH REFEREE: Ranjan Madugalle