TIM Bresnan struck three hammer blows straight after tea on day three to carry England ever closer to retaining the Ashes at the MCG.

England had encountered predictably enhanced resistance as they began their attempt to bowl Australia out a second time in pursuit of the urn.

But Bresnan - selected here for his first match of the series in place of leading wicket-taker Steven Finn - shifted opener Shane Watson (54), an ultra-determined home captain Ricky Ponting and then Australia's banker Michael Hussey in a spell of three wickets for two runs in 18 balls.

Australia had lost the three frontline batsmen most likely to give them any chance of closing out the remainder of this fourth Test, after conceding a 415-run first-innings deficit.

By mid-evening, they struggled on to 125 for four - and England were closing their grip on an innings victory, a 2-1 lead and the Ashes.

It had taken them only two sessions to skittle their hosts for 98 in perfect seam-and-swing conditions on the first morning, before Jonathan Trott (168no) and others piled up 513 all out.

But under near cloudless skies on day three, openers Phil Hughes and Watson passed 50 at almost five-an-over second time round.

Australia could nonetheless afford no self-inflicted blows - and that is just what they got when Watson's unwise call for a single to cover off Graeme Swann resulted in Hughes having to go, run out via a good throw from Trott and neat work from wicketkeeper Matt Prior.

Ponting, under immense pressure with the Ashes so close to being conceded again and after his match fee fine for a spat with the umpires yesterday, strode out to boos from England's travelling support - drowned out by cheers from his own public.

His form has suffered this winter, and he tried to eliminate all risk as he took 15 balls to get off nought.

Two close calls for lbw followed against James Anderson before he reached 10, but neither would have been overturned on DRS.

Watson, meanwhile, reined himself back to necessary consolidation after his and Hughes' flying start, on his way to a 95-ball 50.

England were bowling well but seemed sure to have to prepare for a long haul - until Bresnan (three for 22), with highly-skilled reverse-swing, had his say.

Watson was deceived sufficiently to shoulder arms at one that snaked back to win an lbw verdict from Tony Hill, which narrowly stood after a failed DRS.

Swann should have had new batsman Clarke for two, but the previously impeccable Prior missed an obvious stumping chance.

That appeared to matter little, however, after Bresnan had Ponting chopping on to his stumps and Hussey poking a low catch to cover for a duck.

He would have had Steven Smith too for good measure, had Chris Tremlett managed to hold a tumbling catch from a mis-hook to deep backward-square.

Trott this morning maximised the misery for Australia's bowlers - who nonetheless managed to take England's last five wickets for only 54 runs, Peter Siddle finishing with six for 75.

First, he broke Trott's sixth-wicket stand with Prior - who chipped a catch to mid-on 15 runs short of an Ashes century.

Trott and Prior had put on 173, though - and then after Siddle had Bresnan edging a routine catch behind, pushing forward, Swann joined in to push England past 500 for the first time in 36 years at this venue.

Mitchell Johnson took the most punishment, conceding 134 runs in 29 overs as England gained revenge for his match-winning exploits in Perth.

Ryan Harris limped out of the attack, after injuring his ankle - and it subsequently emerged the fast bowler would need surgery on a stress fracture and may not be able to bat here.

But Ben Hilfenhaus finally had an overdue wicket when Brad Haddin took a fine catch above his head after Swann edged an attempted hook behind, and he doubled up for good measure by clean-bowling Chris Tremlett.By the time Anderson missed a Siddle half-volley to be last out, only Indians Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag stood above Trott in the Test run-scoring charts for this calendar year.

As ever, there was little remarkable about his accumulation.

For England, though, Trott's unbeaten 345-ball and near eight-hour stay was a precious contribution in search of the urn.