|Phillip Hughes was run out for 23 due to opening partner, Shane Watson's poor running [GALLO/GETTY]
England have moved closer to a first successful Ashes tour triumph in 24 years as Australia limped to 169-6 at stumps on the third day of the fourth Ashes Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).
They started their second innings, on Tuesday, needing 415 runs to make England bat again, or lasting eight sessions to secure a draw.
But Australia's top order disintegrated under pressure once again, in front of a 68,000-strong crowd at the MCG, trailing England by 246 runs.
They are odds-on favourites to become the first team to surrender the Ashes on home soil since Alan Border's defeat to the Mike Gatting-led England team in 1986/87.
Brad Haddin (11) and Mitchell Johnson (6) survived the last few overs only to take on the virtually impossible task of staving off England's victory charge on day four.
Tim Bresnan, the impressive Yorkshire seamer replacing Steve Finn, took three wickets in a brilliant spell after tea to leave Australia reeling on 104-4.
Graeme Swann and James Anderson then took a wicket apiece to inflict further pain on the hosts.
"We've done well," Bresnan said. "We put a lot of hard work in. We've got a lot of work still to do tomorrow to finish the job and that's what we'll be looking to do."
Much of Australia's hopes of resisting England's victory push hinged on Ponting's past ability to occupy the crease for a long innings, but he lasted only 101 minutes and 73 balls.
Ponting played from the crease to Bresnan and got an inside edge onto his stumps to the sheer delight of the English team.
Australia captain scored only 20 runs, continuing his poor form in a series in which his highest score remains an unbeaten 51 in the drawn first test in Brisbane.
It has been a fraught match for Ponting.
He lost a crucial toss on a lively pitch, his side was routed for a first-day 98, he was fined and censured by the match referee for his prolonged argument with the umpires over a disputed referral and the runs have dried up.
Ponting apologised before taking the crease for his ugly remonstration with the umpires on Monday over a video referral.
But it is not likely to save the 36-year-old's captaincy or win forgiveness from a dejected Australian public for his team's lacklustre performance.
He stands on the verge of becoming the first Australian skipper in more than 100 years to lose the Ashes three times.
And after scores of 10, 1, 12, 9 and 0 in his five previous innings, can no longer lean on his batting record to justify his tenure.
Ponting is in the twilight of an illustrious career and is the second all-time leading Test runscorer with 12,363 runs behind India's Sachin Tendulkar.
Ponting is also the most successful Australian captain with 48 wins from 76 Tests heading into the Boxing Day Test.
Ponting will be expected to receive a fitting farewell in the Sydney Test, starting next Monday, if selectors consider it is time to put an end to his stint as Australia captain and rebuild under a new leader.
Australia's bowlers, to their credit, had earlier raced through England's last five wickets for the addition of 69 runs to have the tourists dismissed for 513 just before lunch.
Australia's hopes with the bat were dashed when Shane Watson enhanced his reputation as one of the worst runners in elite cricket by running out opening partner Phillip Hughes for 23.
The pair had made a promising start, putting 50 runs on the scoreboard at a rapid run rate of more than five an over, before Watson pushed to cover and called Hughes through for a single.
"It's a horrendous feeling running out a team mate, you'd rather it be yourself," Watson said.
"For us to play as poorly as we have, it's been very shattering for me."
Watson and Ponting then helped Australia stutter to 95-1 at tea but rarely appeared comfortable at the crease and both soon lost their wickets to Bresnan.
Watson was trapped lbw for 54 and then Mike Hussey went out for a duck (0), when the middle order batsman pushed a delivery that stayed low to short cover where Ian Bell took a smart catch.
Michael Clarke, who has managed one half-century in the series, scratched around unconvincingly for 13 runs in a 66-ball knock before nicking a Swann delivery to England skipper Andrew Strauss at slip.
Steve Smith survived a little longer but was bowled by James Anderson for 38.
Australia's woes had earlier been compounded when paceman Ryan Harris hobbled off the ground with an ankle injury after stumbling in an aborted run-up bowling to Bresnan.
A team spokesman later said Harris would likely need surgery for a stress fracture, casting doubt on his availability for the fifth and final test in Sydney next week.