Josh Hazlewood did the damage but a magnificent spell from Pat Cummins set up Australia’s final-session momentum swing at Old Trafford on day three.
Rory Burns and Joe Root frustrated the tourists after no play was possible before lunch on Friday due to rain.
Hazlewood removed nightwatchman Craig Overton in the second over when play finally got under way, but Burns and Root dug in to prevent any further damage from being done before tea.
Steve Smith’s double-century on Thursday enabled Australia to post a mammoth 497-8, making them strong favourites to take a 2-1 lead – and retain the urn.
Burns and Root were in no mood to roll over a fortnight after England were humiliatingly dismissed for only 67 in their first innings at Headingley, before going on to pull off a stunning victory.
Try as they might, the elusive breakthrough simply would not come for the Australia bowlers, but persistence paid off after tea on a gloomy evening.
Hazlewood removed Burns (81), Root (71) and the vulnerable Jason Roy (22) as England lost three wickets for 30 runs before closing on 200-5.
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) September 6, 2019
Yet it was Cummins who was the standout bowler in batting friendly-conditions and a 10-over spell either side of tea in particular showed why he is the top-ranked Test bowler in the world.
The paceman was relentless as he pounded in time and again without reward on a cold day in Manchester, where the recalled Mitchell Starc failed to make an impact.
He rapped Burns on the gloves and peppered the left-hander with rapid short deliveries, beating the bat and drawing edges on a slow, dry pitch.
Cummins, blighted by injuries earlier in his career, continued to steam in with an exhibition of control, hostility and skill, leaving Root writhing in agony after hitting him on the knee.
A brilliant 10 consecutive overs from the Brian Statham End kept Burns and Root on their toes before he was finally replaced by Hazlewood.
Hazlewood’s burst left England in the mire, but it was Cummins who softened them up.