England Women 199 for 6 (Jones 64, Sciver 62*) trail Australia Women 420 for 9 dec (Mooney 51) by 221 runs
Maiden Test fifties from Amy Jones and Nat Sciver staved off the threat of England being run through on the third afternoon in Taunton, but the prospect of Australia retaining the Ashes just past the midpoint of the series moved a step closer to reality. Needing the win to reduce the points deficit before three T20Is, England were never able to force the pace and limped to the close still more than 200 runs in arrears on first innings.
Having declared shortly before lunch and immediately seen Ellyse Perry dispatch Tammy Beaumont - bowled neck and crop by the 13th ball of the innings - Australia subsequently strengthened their grip on the contest during two hard-fought sessions. Sophie Molineux bowled unstintingly on debut to claim 3 for 71, and although Sciver remained unbeaten England's hopes of mounting a victory push had all but gone.
Australia had to work hard for their gains on a still-docile surface, but were able to glance at a scoreboard hugely in their favour whenever they needed pepping up. Although Jones and Heather Knight played positively to add 79 in 21.1 overs for the second wicket, England thereafter opted for survival in preference to do-or-die heroics.
At 132 for 5, there seemed a possibility of England being asked to follow on before the day was out. Sciver and Katherine Brunt combined for a dogged 57-run stand that pushed the score towards respectability but Ashleigh Gardner broke through in the final hour, as Brunt saw the ball ricochet back into her stumps via an inside edge.
Since winning the toss and negotiating safe passage through the first day, Australia have seemed the only team likely to push for a win. Their chances on the final day may rest with the second new ball, and the possibility of finishing England off quickly and then being able to dictate terms.
While there had been some turn on offer for England's spinners, none was able to harness conditions as effectively as Molineux. Her first wicket in Tests was that of Knight, trapped plumb in front attempting to sweep, and she was then given a gift when Jones undid nearly three hours of hard work by lofting straight to mid-off.
Jones had played assertively, crunching 12 fours in her 140-ball stay at the crease. Aside from her dismissal, her only error of judgement came when attempting to steal a quick single into the covers, as Nicole Bolton swooped to run out Georgia Elwiss with a direct hit.
Molineux also claimed the wicket of Sarah Taylor, who appeared less than chuffed at being given out lbw by umpire Alex Wharf. UltraEdge, however, proved that the ball had brushed pad first, before thudding the middle of the bat.
Sciver married substance and technique to prevent an outright collapse, playing increasing watchfully after reaching an 88-ball half-century during an extended evening session. There was even an appearance of the "Natmeg", her signature shot from the 2017 World Cup, but she could not wrest control from Australia on her own and the day ended with four close catchers around the bat as Anya Shrubsole held firm to walk off with 1 from 36 balls.
The only minor issue for Meg Lanning to deal with in the field was a slightly erratic display by debutant quick Tayla Vlaeminck. The 20-year-old started with a no-ball and then sent down five wides during a nervy three-over spell but she also showed good pace and improved during her second stint.
Two days after being put into the field, England likely arrived in the morning hoping to be put out of their misery - but Australia were content to further strengthen their position, possibly in the expectation of only batting once. Beth Mooney reached a maiden Test fifty and Australia added 79 to their overnight total before declaring shortly before lunch and allowing Perry her window of opportunity.
England's initial efforts were rewarded, with Brunt removing Jess Jonassen via a slice to gully and several half-chances created. However, Molineux also gave a good account of herself with the bat, helping to add 52 with Mooney as England's standards in the field slipped again.
Back-to-back fours from Mooney brought up Australia's 400, before Molineux was removed by Sophie Ecclestone, bowled playing across the line by a delivery that turned a fraction. Mooney went to a composed half-century in Ecclestone's next over, and when she fell, caught via a leading edge off the bowling of Sciver, Lanning did call her players in.
With a ten-minute mini-session in prospect, England were immediately pushed back on to the ropes, as Perry produced a ripping delivery to remove Beaumont in her second over. Curving in and seaming away to crash into off stump, it left Beaumont groping at thin air and England fearing the worst.