PERTH, Dec 16: Matthew Hayden fell just short of his first century of the series after helping Australia tighten their grip on the third Ashes test against England today.
Hayden was brilliantly caught by Paul Collingwood at slip for 92 as Australia reached 220 for three in their second innings at lunch on the third day at the WACA.
That left Australia with an overell lead of 249 runs with the game still not at the halfway stage and the ultra-consistent Mike Hussey unbeaten on 43 and Michael Clarke not out three.
Australia scored 101 for the loss of two wickets in a hot morning session after resuming on 119 for two.
Hayden and Australia's in-form captain Ricky Ponting both resumed their innings on 57 but failed to reach triple figures with Ponting departing for 75 after just 15 minutes' play.
Ponting, man of the match in the first two tests both won by Australia, signalled his intentions to accelerate the scoring rate with two boundaries in the same over off part-time spinner Kevin Pietersen but fell shortly after when he feathered a catch off paceman Steve Harmison to wicketkeeper Geraint Jones.
Ponting and Hayden had put on 144 for the second wicket after Justin Langer was bowled by Matthew Hoggard on the first ball of the innings on Friday afternoon.
Hayden also shared in a 62-run stand with Hussey before missing out on his on hundred when he misjudged a sharply spinning delivery from Monty Panesar and Collingwood took a juggling catch.
Hayden had batted more than four hours for his 92 but was furious at being dismissed so close to his hundred, storming off the ground.
Hussey was his usual composed self as he steadily edged his way toward a fifth straight half-century of the series.
The left-hander made 86, 91, 61 not out and 74 not out in his previous test innings and his latest contribution lifted his series total to 355 runs at an average of 177.5.
Hussey was overlooked for the 2005 Ashes series in England, which Australia lost 2-1, but made his test debut a few months later and is now established as one of the team's most reliable batsmen.
Australia can regain the Ashes if they win in Perth after winning the first two tests in Brisbane and Adelaide while England need to at least draw the match to keep the series alive.
Scoreboard at lunch
Scoreboard at lunch on the third day of the third Ashes test between Australia and England at the WACA today.
Australia first innings 244 England first innings 215 Australia second innings (overnight 119-1) J.Langer b Hoggard 0 M.Hayden c Collingwood b Panesar 92 R.Ponting c Jones b Harmison 75 M.Hussey not out 43 M.Clarke not out 3 Extras (lb-6 w-1) 7 Total (for three wickets, 63 overs) 220 Fall: 1-0 2-144 3-206 Bowling: Hoggard 14-4-41-1, Flintoff 11-2-36-0, Harmison 15-2-51-1, Panesar 18-1-54-1, Mahmood 2-0-12-0, Pietersen 3-1-20-0