SYDNEY (AFP) - Relentless England were only three wickets away from their first series victory Down Under in 24 years after humbling Australia on the fourth day in the final Sydney Ashes Test on Thursday.
Needing either a win or a draw to take the series, England posted their highest-ever score in Australia of 644 and then ripped through the host's batting order, taking seven wickets by the close.
England, who lead the series 2-1, have already retained the Ashes and are now three wickets away from securing an innings victory, with it a richly deserved series win, on Friday's final day.
At the close, Australia were all but down for the count at 213 for seven with Steven Smith on 24 and Peter Siddle on 17 and still 151 runs in arrears.
"That's pretty hard to beat. At the SCG in an Ashes Test, a 100 and then a few catches and we've got them seven down and we're in a pretty good position to win tomorrow," wicketkeeper Matt Prior, who cracked a blistering century.
"It was a great moment in England winning the Ashes (last year), but to come over here knowing the history, knowing that it's been 24 years since it was last done and there's obviously a reason for that."
Prior's 197-minute blitz which yielded 118 was the fastest England Ashes century since Ian Botham in 1981.
England outplayed the hosts in Adelaide and Melbourne while Australia won the third Test in Perth. The first Brisbane Test was drawn.
"There's no doubt we've let ourselves down," Australian opener Shane Watson said.
"But there's no doubt as well that the English have played extremely well. The last two games the way they've bowled, they've made the most of all conditions whether it's seaming and swinging, or going reverse and turning.
"Hats off to them."
The pace trio of James Anderson, Tim Bresnan and Chris Tremlett bowled England to the verge of victory with irresistible displays of swing bowling.
Anderson, getting late reverse swing, snared the wickets of debutant Usman Khawaja and acting captain Michael Clarke to take his series haul to 23.
Khawaja played away from his body and deflected a catch to Prior off Anderson for 21, while Clarke on 41 was bamboozled by Anderson's late movement and handed Prior another catch.
It ended a wretched batting series for Clarke who has scored just 193 runs at 21.44.
Bresnan chipped in with the crucial wicket of Australia's leading series scorer Mike Hussey, caught head-high by Kevin Pietersen for 12.
Australia then suffered a tumble of wickets with Brad Haddin (30) and Mitchell Johnson (0) falling to consecutive Tremlett deliveries only for Siddle to see off the hat-trick attempt.
Strauss sought an extra half-hour's play from the umpires in a bid to press a result inside four days but Smith and Siddle held them out.
Australia's second innings foundered early with the chaotic run out of Watson for 38 in a dreadful breakdown in communication with Phillip Hughes.
Watson became the third Australian opener run out in the series after he took off for a second run that was not on while Hughes hesitated.
Pietersen whipped in his throw to Prior with both batsmen stranded at the non-striker's end.
Watson was also involved in the run outs of Simon Katich in the second Adelaide Test and Hughes at Melbourne.
Hughes lasted just seven more overs before he fell for 13 in a familiar mode of dismissal, tickling outside offstump to a slanting Tim Bresnan delivery to the slips.
Earlier, Prior became England's third centurion of the innings as the tourists posted their highest total of 644 in Australia and eclipsed the previous highest score of 636 at the SCG, set back in 1928-29.
It was also the fourth time England have passed 500 in the series.
It took Australia's bowlers 177.5 overs and 758 minutes to finally dislodge a rampant England, with Alastair Cook (189), Prior (118) and Ian Bell (115) all claiming tons.
Prior, who was 54 overnight, took on the Australian attack and raised his fourth Test century with a four through the covers off spinner Michael Beer