SYDNEY, January 6- Relentless England were just three wickets away from their first Down Under series victory in 24 years as Australia folded under pressure in the final Sydney Ashes Test on Thursday.
Needing either a win or a draw to claim the series, England posted their highest-ever score in Australia of 644 and then ripped through Australia to take seven wickets and have a win at the mercy on Friday’s final day.
England, who lead the series 2-1, have already retained the Ashes at last week’s fourth Melbourne Test and are now looking to crown it with a well-deserved series triumph.
At the close, Australia had been reduced to 213 for seven with Steven Smith on 24 and Peter Siddle on 17 and still 151 runs in arrears.
England outplayed the hosts in Adelaide and Melbourne while Australia won the third Test in Perth. The first Brisbane Test was drawn.
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 tantalising late reverse swing, snared the wickets of debutant Usman Khawaja and acting captain Michael Clarke to take his series haul to 23.
Khawaja, who made a promising debut in the first innings, played away from his body and deflected a catch to Matt Prior off Anderson for 21.
Clarke looked to have played himself in when on 41 he was bamboozled by Anderson’s late movement off the pitch and gave Prior another catch.
It culminated in a dismal batting series for Clarke with just 193 runs at 21.44.
Bresnan chipped 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 on consecutive Tremlett deliveries only for Siddle to see off the hattrick attempt.
Strauss sought an extra half-hour’s play from the umpires in a bid to press a result inside four days.
Australia’s second innings foundered early with the chaotic run out of Shane 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 wasn’t on while Hughes hesitated.
Kevin Pietersen whipped in his throw to Prior with both batsmen stranded at the non-striker’s end.
Watson was also prominently 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 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 rampant England, who had three century-makers — Alastair Cook (189), Prior (118) and Ian Bell (115).
Graeme Swann was left unbeaten on 36 off 26 balls as England frolicked along at 3.6 runs an over.
Prior, who was 54 overnight, took to the Australian attack and raised his fourth Test century with a four through the covers off spinner Michael Beer.
His 197-minute blitz was the fastest England Ashes century since Ian Botham in 1981.