Victory On The Horizon: Australia Eight Wickets From An Ashes Retaining Win

Australia are within sight of an Ashes-retaining victory at Old Trafford, where England will resume at 2-18 on day five of the fourth Test after being set a target of 383 on a pitch that made even Steve Smith feel vulnerable.

Smith and Pat Cummins, the world's top-ranked batsman and bowler, lived up to their mantle on Saturday to bust the contest open as their side stalked a 2-1 series lead.

Manchester's weather is notoriously fickle but there is no rain forecast for Sunday.

Smith extinguished an England fightback in yet another incredible innings, scoring a quick-fire 82 that prompted Tim Paine to declare at 6-186.

Cummins then blasted out Rory Burns and Joe Root, the most imposing roadblocks in England's first innings, for ducks with the second and third balls of the innings.

Cummins blasted out Rory Burns and Joe Root. Photo: Getty Images.

Jason Roy survived the hat-trick delivery but the out-of-form batsman and his middle order have a mountain to climb as they seek to salvage a draw.

"It will be difficult," Smith said.

"My first 20 or 30 balls, I felt pretty vulnerable when they were bowling that good length.

"It's pretty clear what we need to do tomorrow ... it's just about relaxing and enjoying it."

Coach Trevor Bayliss pointed to England's one-wicket win in Leeds as proof that "anything is possible".

"They believe they are good enough to bat for 98 overs and save the game," Bayliss said.

"I'm always positive, I think we can do it."

Pat Cummins celebrates taking the wicket of England's Joe Root. Photo: Getty Images.

Australia haven't retained the urn in England since 2001 but none of those squads boasted a batsman of Smith's calibre.

The tourists crashed to 4-44 on Saturday, when tensions bubbled as Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer both struck twice in marathon opening spells.

Rather than go into his shell, Smith fastidiously counter-punched in a 105-run stand with Matthew Wade to give their side the best chance to secure victory.

Australia's best batsman since Don Bradman backed up his first-innings 211 in style, performing a few more party tricks while rescuing his team for the umpteenth time in a career that has gone to another level this series.

Smith swatted, walloped and waltzed across the crease as he overwhelmed the hosts during a 92-ball blitz, punishing good and bad balls.

Steve Smith is regarded as Australia's best batsman since Don Bradman. Photo: Getty Images.

One of many defining images of the onslaught came when Broad, expecting Smith to shuffle to the leg side, pushed his delivery so far wide it rocketed past Jonny Bairstow and to the rope.

READ MORE: Vegemite Spreads Salt Into English Wounds After Crushing Ashes Defeat

Broad argued it shouldn't have been called wide; Smith was simply aggrieved to be denied runs.

The run glutton was in one of those moods while breaking his own record for most consecutive 50-plus scores in the Ashes, which now stands at nine after his lowest score of the series.

READ MORE: Aussies Close To Retaining Ashes After England's 'Pathetic' Battling Collapse

Smith, having stumbled to the ground while trying to get bat on an Archer bouncer, practised the shot while he was on his back.

The former skipper eventually holed out to Ben Stokes in the deep, handing left-arm spinner Jack Leach his first and only wicket of an innings in which he went at 6.44 runs an over.

"I made an effort to be quite aggressive against Leach," Smith said.