The urn is so close to being returned.

Only a gloomy Perth weather forecast and six wickets separated Australia from regaining the Ashes on the morning of the fifth day of the Third Test at the WACA. After another disappointing show from England's brittle top order, the tourists' rescue mission was left to Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow, who helped England reach 4/132 at stumps on day four.

Rain is forecast to impact play in the opening session of the day and again late on Monday with the Bureau of Meteorology predicting up to 15mm of rain will fall on Perth today with a top of 21C.

England 403 and 4/132 from 38.2 overs. (Malan 28, Bairstow 14)

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Australia 9/662 dec.
Controversial start to day five

Josh Hazlewood struck with his first ball of the afternoon, knocking Jonny Bairstow's off stump over with a delivery that kept low.

Pat Cumminss completed the over he wasn't able to finish last night then Hazlewood started from the other end in perfect fashion.


"I wonder if (England coach) Trevor Bayliss is in the match referee's room asking, 'What's going on here, what are the rules?' That's definitely kept low. That skidded along," former Australian opener Chris Rogers told ABC Grandstand.

Moeen Ali hit his second ball for four but two balls later he edged Hazlewood to Steve Smith at second slip. The ball bobbled up and Smith caught the rebound but the third umpire was called upon to adjudicate if the Kookaburra hit the turf before it slapped into Smith's hands.

The ball appeared to hit Smith's fingers down low, which prompted it to bounce up, but third umpire Aleem Dar gave it not out because replays gave the impression β€” as they usually do β€” the ball may have bounced up off the grass.

Umpire Marais Erasmus gave a soft signal of not out, meaning Dar was obliged to support that decision if he couldn't find conclusive evidence to the contrary.

Smith kicked the grass in frustration when "not out" came up on the big screen and Hazlewood had some words for Ali at the end of the over.

Channel Nine commentators Shane Warne and Mark Taylor both believed Smith caught it, but understood why Dar didn't give it out because he could not be 100 per cent sure.

Play delayed again

The ground staff continues to use leaf blowers to dry the pitch as play, which was scheduled to begin after lunch at 5.40pm AEDT, has been delayed further.

4.50pm
England unhappy over start time announcement

Umpires have announced play will begin at 5.40pm after a delayed lunch break.

Umpires have made a decision that lunch will begin at 5pm with the aim of the second session of play beginning forty minutes later.

England captain Joe Root was visibly "frustrated" after being told the news, according to Channel 9 commentator Mark Nicholas.

Match officials are still hopeful of at least 60 overs being bowled before the end of the day.

The second session of play will be from 5.40pm to 7.10pm. The last session of play will be from 8.30pm to 11.30pm.

'Embarrassment' for Australia

The Waca pitch debacle is an appalling "embarrassment" for Australian cricket, veteran cricket correspondent Robert Craddock reckons.

The cricket scribes damning appraisal of the Waca's failure to protect the wicket from the elements comes as the chances of play resuming continued to deteriorate.

Bookmakers have begun listing the draw as the favoured result of the Third Test.

Australia were strong favourites, despite the gloomy weather predictions, at stumps on day four, but the home team's odds of wrapping up the Ashes in Perth have been blown out by the shocking soggy Waca deck.

"Crazy scenes here at the Waca," commentator Mark Nicholas told Channel 9.

Hidden threat to Aussie test victory

Former Aussie Test captain Michael Clarke has questioned how on earth the pitch covers could have been penetrated by rain.

He said with the amount of technology and money in the game it is a shame that a simple blemish like the coverings on a pitch could still have such a dramatic influence on the game.

"You think these days with the money in the game how have we got covers with holes in them," Clarke questioned on Channel 9.

Clarke also said the real concern for Australia is that ground staff will not be able to dry the turf underneath the Waca pitch top grass with the leaf blowers being used.

If the grass on top of the deck is dry, but the pitch remains soft underneath, umpires will be under pressure to abandon play because the conditions will be declared too different to the ones presented on day four.

"It's about what it's like underneath, that's the biggest concern for the umpires," he said.

Match in doubt over pitch bungle

Test legend Shane Warne has sensationally declared England has a case to have play abandoned in the Third Test as a result of water soaking through the pitch on the morning of day five.

Warne said England captain Joe Root will be petitioning for the match to be abandoned because the pitch is not fit for Test cricket.

It comes after wet, wild and windy conditions saw the covers blow off the Waca square.

"Maybe there is something there for play to be abandoned," Warne told Channel 9.

"I'd be picking up a big stink if I was Joe Root.

"All I'm saying is that Joe Root could throw up an argument to say, 'Has there been enough rain that's got through the hessian, through the covers, that's got onto the pitch and changed the nature of the pitch'.

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The on-field umpires and match referee are yet to make a decision on if play will go ahead, however umpire Chris Gaffaney told Channel 9 play will only commence on day five when the pitch is just as dry as it was on day four before the wet weather struck.

Gaffaney said the ground staff have been frantically trying to dry the soaked area of the pitch with leaf blowers.

He said it remains unclear how the pitch covers failed to protect the deck from the rain over night.

Former Aussie Test great Ian Healy joked members of the Barmy Army may have tried to tamper with the covers at the end of day four to boost their team's chances of surviving on day five.

England coach Trevor Bayliss said his team is prepared to play on Monday β€” but only if the pitch is dried to their level of satisfaction.

"There's a few soft spots in the wicket, but we're more than prepared to come out and play if we can get it as close as we can to yesterday," he told Channel 9.

"Whatever the umpires say, that's what we'll do.

"It's unfortunate really. It was going to be a good day of cricket, I think. It still might be at some stage today."

Aussie coach Darren Lehmann said the pitch already "looks pretty good".

Australia's decision to bat on to their total of 9/662 on day four has been criticised by Aussie cricket great Dirk Nannes, who earlier said Steve Smith' may come to regret his decision not to declare earlier.


12.30pm

Groundstaff blunder boosts England miracle

A blunder from the WACA ground staff has boosted England's chance of a great escape with the Perth pitch soaked through on the morning of day five.

Water has reportedly soaked through the covers, leaving staff to frantically try and dry the pitch out before the start of play.

Smith's captaincy questioned

Former Aussie international Dirk Nannes has questioned if Steve Smith has regrets about non declaring earlier on day four at the WACA.

Nannes reckons Australia would already be celebrating the return of the urn and a 3-0 series lead if Smith had pulled the pin on Australia's first innings score of 9/662 and given the Aussie bowlers more than 38 overs at the end of the day before predicted rain stopped play.

Nannes says he still expects Australia to win back the urn on Monday β€” despite the rain β€” but believes it would already be all over if Smith had been more aggressive with his captaincy.

"I just wonder in hindsight whether they're going to be a little bit upset about the declaration," Nannes told ABC Grandstand.

"At the time you looked at the forecast and thought maybe they should have come off a little earlier. If they were one more wicket down, you feel like Australia could have just run through them this afternoon."

Josh Hazlewood told the ABC he is not worried about Smith's late declaration and said Australia would have continued to bat on day four if not for the Perth weather forecasts.

"We knew the cracks were going to get bigger and hopefully we come out tomorrow and they're bigger again," he said at the end of day four.

"We probably would have batted a bit longer if there was no rain around, but as we saw this afternoon and potentially tomorrow, we probably pulled them off earlier then we would have."