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Australia close in on retaining the Ashes after Cummins strikes
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Australia close in on retaining the Ashes after Cummins strikes

Pat Cummins snared two wickets in successive deliveries late on the fourth day of the Old Trafford Test to push England to the brink of Ashes defeat.

Cummins, the leading wicket-taker in the series thus far, dismissed Rory Burns and England skipper Joe Root in his opening over to leave the hosts yearning for another miracle to save them from a miserable defeat.

England finished the day at 18-2 in pursuit of surmounting the mammoth target of 383 effectively nullifying their chances of a win in the game.

Meanwhile, Australia's task is simple - they require eight wickets for victory to go 2-1 up in the series and retain the prized Ashes urn with one game remaining.

England still have star all-rounder Ben Stokes in the hut, the hero of their record chase at Headingley last month, but even then the improbable task of completing 365 runs on the final day seems extremely daunting.

Earlier, Steve Smith's extraordinary run-spree against England transcended another level as his briskly paced 82 led Australia to 186-6 in the second innings.

Australia captain Tim Paine then decided to declare his team's innings leaving the England batsmen to negotiate a tricky half an hour before close of play.

Burns and Root, coming at the back of valiant half-centuries, went back to the pavilion without troubling the scorers as both fell victim to Cummins' sharp pace.

An ill-judged leg-glance from Burns got the leading edge of his bat as the ball looped to Travis Head stationed at short cover.

The very next delivery had Root bowled by an absolute beauty with the ball nipping away and shattering his defences to smash into the top of off-stump.

Jason Roy, still struggling to find his feet in red-ball cricket, safely dealt with the hat-trick ball and denied Cummins the chance to further extend his dominance.

Smith stamps his authority again

Smith, ranked number one in the world among Test batsmen, drove Australia's charge earlier in the day reaching his ninth consecutive fifty against familiar foes England as he contributed 82 runs following a superb double century in the first innings.

Marking his first Test series since his comeback from a 12-month ball-tampering ban, the former captain has now accumulated 671 runs at a stunning average of 134.2

The England bowlers opted for a short-ball barrage to unsettle Smith given his concussion injury in the second game at Lord's, but their plans were foiled by the 30-year-old who instead launched into an attacking mode to expand his side's lead.

Smith rescued Australia from a precarious position at 44-4 toyed with the opposition driving them to all parts of the ground.

He was eventually dismissed by off-spinner Jack Leach as an adventurous slog from the star batsman landed into the hands of Stokes, running round from long-on.

While Smith's dominant show has largely been the factor cushioning the visitors, David Warner - also returning from a 12-month ban - registered his seventh single-digit score in eight innings.

Warner's nemesis Stuart Broad had him out for his third straight duck in the series as he completed an unwanted 'pair' in the match.

The 32-year-old southpaw's repeated failures see his place in the side increasingly under threat for the next game.

World Cup-winner Jofra Archer did not have much success in Australia's first innings but managed to crank up his pace during the afternoon session and returned impressive figures of 3-45 in 14 overs.