England piled up their highest total Down Under and then set about the task of bowling out Australia in pursuit of a series-clinching innings victory in the fifth Ashes Test.

Matt Prior's 118 at the SCG meant numbers seven and eight, Ian Bell, both reached three figures - in addition to opener Alastair Cook - in a total of 644 all out.

Facing a mammoth deficit of 364 early on the fourth afternoon of this final Test, Australia reached a teatime score of 77 for two.

Much more would be needed to stop England celebrating their first outright Ashes series victory in Australia in 24 years with a 3-1 rather than 2-1 scoreline.

The tourists were in an impregnable position on the back of three successive century stands, concluding with Prior and Tim Bresnan's 102 for the eighth wicket.

Prior completed his fourth Test hundred with a brutal drive past cover off Michael Beer for his ninth four, to go with one six from 109 balls.

Having learned before start of play that Paul Collingwood has decided to retire at the end of this, his 68th Test, Prior and Bresnan ploughed on seamlessly from 488 for seven.

They made batting look a simple occupation, under the sunniest skies of this contest so far, first against Mitchell Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus and then spin at both ends with an ageing ball.

When Mitchell Johnson (four for 168) took the third new ball he did so to much taunting about his inconsistent line from England's Barmy Army.

His first over with it disappeared for 10 runs, but there was minor revenge for the left-armer with the wicket of Bresnan - pushing away from his body on the front foot and caught low down at second slip.

Prior finally had to go when he chased an upper-cut, with little foot movement, and edged Ben Hilfenhaus (three for 121) behind. Umpire Billy Bowden called for video evidence to rule out the no-ball, the third such occurrence in the last two Tests, but technology marginally spared Australia further suffering this time.

The same could not be said of Johnson - whose final over was dispatched for 20 runs by England's last pair, courtesy principally of Graeme Swann.

Chris Tremlett was last out - by which time each of Australia's four frontline bowlers had conceded more than 100 runs.

Then, after an encouraging opening stand of 46, a self-inflicted blow started the rot again for the hosts.

Shane Watson blazed seven boundaries in his 38, but has developed a strange fragility when it comes to running between the wickets.

Today's mix-up spelled the end for him, by the length of the pitch after he and Phil Hughes got their wires crossed over a second run.

Hughes (13) did not last much longer either, following some sideways movement off the pitch from Bresnan and edging behind for Prior to cling on to a slightly ungainly catch.