Ben Stokes did his considerable best with five wickets but England must still return for a third day at Trent Bridge to win back the Ashes.
Australia lost four wickets in five overs, including openers Chris Rogers (52) and David Warner (64) to Stokes, after beginning their second innings 331 runs behind in the fourth Test.
At the ground where England last lost the Ashes on home soil 14 years ago, Adam Voges ensured an innings victory would not quite come inside two days.
He steered Australia to 241 for seven at stumps, still 90 behind, so a little more graft still lies ahead before Alastair Cook’s team can contemplate the endgame of regaining the urn with a match to spare.
Stokes was frustrated not to have polished off the rest of Australia’s second innings with victory so close, but was clear about what England want to achieve.
“It’s unfortunate that we had to come off for bad light but we’re in an unbelievable position here,” he said.
“We need three wickets and they need 90 to make us run again but the most crucial thing is that we go out tomorrow and make sure we don’t have to get the pads on because their tail end wagged a bit at Edgbaston so hopefully we can just knock them over and get the game over and done.”
Rogers and Warner both made ducks as Stuart Broad dismantled Australia for 60 all out on the first morning.
But for almost 24 overs at their second attempt, the two left-handed openers made a mockery of that costly debacle with a half-century each in a stand of 113.
Stokes (5-35) intervened with three wickets for four runs as Australia faltered before tea.
But Peter Nevill dug in alongside Voges to keep England waiting, as he had at Edgbaston last week, this time with fortune on his side when he was caught at slip on two off Steven Finn only to be reprieved by a no-ball call.
The hosts’ declaration came on 391 for nine shortly before lunch after which the ball continued to swing, with occasional movement off the pitch, too.
Yet England found their progress much harder-earned and did not always help themselves either, Warner dropped in the slips on 10 and 42 by Cook and then Ian Bell.
It seemed England’s luck was well out when, for the first of two occasions, a batsman was given a second chance by a third-umpire no-ball call. Mark Wood had found extra bounce and Rogers gloved to third slip where Joe Root clung on low down.
But the opener had only two more runs when Root took an even better catch, diving one-handed away to his left.
Stokes struck with the last ball of his next over too, Warner mis-pulling a short ball for an easy catch to mid-on, and then Shaun Marsh also edged to Root.
The final wicket of the session was Broad’s but Stokes could not stay out of the action and took the low catch at cover to see off Steve Smith.
Michael Clarke’s attempt to arrest his series-long slump foundered with an edge off Wood and a Cook juggle at first slip to Bell at second.
But it was not until Nevill shouldered arms to one that nipped back into him from Stokes to go lbw that the sixth-wicket stand was broken on 50. Then even after Stokes had Mitchell Johnson edging to slip, worsening light precluded any consideration of the extra half-hour.
On a cloudy morning, England had consolidated their dominance despite a Mitchell Starc (6-111) burst of three wickets for five runs.
After stumps Starc said: “We will come out tomorrow morning and fight as hard as we can. It’s the Australian way to fight, fight to the end, and that’s what we’ll do.”
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