England quick Matthew Hoggard swung the ball early without taking a wicket, as the Australian bowlers rested in preparation for another ten wicket quest.
There were question marks over Ponting’s choice not to enforce the follow on after dismissing England with a lead of 445, and his decision to bat again was tainted after he strained his back during the morning’s brief stint at the crease.
Ponting did not take the field after the morning declaration sparking fears over his fitness for the second Test in Adelaide starting on Thursday.
England openers Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook again looked good early, putting on 29 before Strauss was tempted into an unnecessary hook shot by Stuart Clark which was caught by substitute fielder Ryan Broad who was on the field for Ponting.
First innings rock Ian Bell came to the crease but only lasted four balls before giving Shane Warne his first wicket of the series when he was trapped LBW for 0 by a ball that straightened and stayed low.
Meanwhile, 21 year-old Cook was finding his feet on the bouncy Gabba pitch and was unlucky not to get a half century before he offered a bat-pad catch to Mike Hussey off the bowling of Warne to be dismissed for 43.
Paul Collingwood, in the team for the absent Marcus Trescothick, played an excellent innings and deserved a century before imploding under pressure from Shane Warne when on 96.
Knowing he was just one boundary away from his third Test hundred, Collingwood charged down the pitch but was deceived by a Warne leg-break with stand-in skipper Adam Gilchrist whipping the bails off to have the unlucky batsman well short of his ground.
Warne takes four
England captain Andrew Flintoff came in and hit four boundaries to race to 16 before he too suffered from a moment of madness when presenting Justin Langer with the easiest of catches and Warne with his fourth wicket.
Flintoff has led his team admirably, especially coming to their rescue with the ball, but in the situation his team was in a cool, captain’s knock was required, not a rash shot that could only end in a walk back to the pavilion.
The dangerous Pietersen took a while to get going but once he did, he proved to be in devastating form, hitting boundaries at will to all parts of the ground and engaging in an ongoing verbal spat with Warne.
The South African-born batsman is poised to make his sixth Test century as he sits on 92 not out overnight, and with Geraint Jones (12 not out) supporting him, the Ashes holders could cause further frustration for Australia on the final day’s play.
England must either bat out the day to draw the Test, or do the unthinkable and score the 355 runs to secure what would be an unlikely but momentous victory.