Australia lost three early wickets before moving on to 238-3 at lunch on the last day of the final Ashes test at The Oval on Monday, still needing 146 runs to beat England and secure a 3-1 victory in the series.
Chris Woakes took advantage of helpful conditions to remove David Warner (60) and Usman Khawaja (72), and Mark Wood dismissed Marnus Labuschagne for 13 to leave the match on a knife-edge.
Steve Smith survived in the last over before lunch when he edged Moeen Ali off his glove to Ben Stokes at leg slip but the England captain lost control of the ball in his celebration and the third umpire ruled it was not out.
Smith was unbeaten on 40 at the interval and Travis Head on 31 as Australia look to win the Ashes in England for the first time since 2001.
Resuming on 135-0 after their fine partnership on Sunday, Khawaja and Warner looked to continue to bat with positive intent but under grey skies the ball moved around from the start.
Warner was beaten by a lifting delivery from Woakes and edged a catch to wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow.
Woakes trapped Khawaja lbw for 72 in his next over, the batsman failing to overturn the decision on review, and with the crowd firmly behind them England’s tails were up.
Labuschagne struck two crisp fours before he nibbled at an outswinger from Wood and Zak Crawley took a good low catch at second slip.
Head started unconvincingly, beaten by moving deliveries from Stuart Broad and James Anderson, but he also looked to score runs at every opportunity.
Smith and Head quickly took their fourth-wicket partnership to 69 and will resume in the afternoon session when rain is forecast to cause interruptions in play.
No team has chased down more than 263 to win a test at The Oval – a record set by England against Australia back in 1902 – although 10 sides have scored more than 300 on their way to draws at the south London ground.
Australia retained the Ashes after the final day of the fourth test was washed out.