Captain Heather Knight single-handedly repelled Australia with a superb century to keep England in the Ashes on day two of the one-off Test in Canberra.
As the batting line-up crumbled around her, Knight hit 127 not out from 249 balls, her second Test ton, to drag England to 235-8 at the close, 102 behind.
Australia will retain the Ashes with victory at the Manuka Oval but Knight ensured England avoided the follow-on which, with rain forecast for the final two days, could be crucial in their bid to avoid to defeat.
The next highest score was 27 not out, made by number 10 Sophie Ecclestone who shared a crucial unbroken stand of 66 with Knight late in the day.
The England batters were guilty of a number of soft dismissals, opener Lauren Winfield-Hill, who edged a wafted drive to depart for four, and Amy Jones, caught off the top-edge at mid-on attempting to shovel the ball to leg, two of those culpable.
Earlier, Australia declared on 337-9 in the morning session with Katherine Brunt taking 5-60.
Even if England escape with a draw they will likely still need to win the three one-day internationals which follow to win the series.
They currently trail 4-2 in the multi-format series with four points on offer for victory in the Test - with two apiece for the draw - and should Australia win, as holders, they will retain the Ashes.
Knight and Ecclestone batted out 20.3 overs at the end of the day to give England hope
As wickets were tamely offered up at regular intervals England looked to be subsiding into a position that would have left defeat inevitable.
Knight, however, was incredible. She was already the only woman to hit centuries in all three formats for England but this effort, her fifth international ton in total, must surely rank as her best.
Her team-mates had no answer to Australia's impressive and varied bowling attack but, having come in in the third over, Knight, showing solid defence and accumulating off her pads and with drives through the covers, hardly offered a chance.
The only opportunity came when Knight was on 93, spinner Jess Jonassen getting fingertips on a caught-and-bowled chance high above her head.
England were 68 runs short of the follow-on mark at 120-6 at one stage, and still 19 adrift when Ecclestone arrived at 169-8.
Knight expertly managed the situation, taking the strike until Ecclestone grew in confidence and adding quick runs against the second new ball in the final hour as the bowlers tired.
As well as the runs the time Knight has taken out of the game may also prove crucial.
Australia could have had a second bowl at England late on day two but instead the tourists go into day three still able to chip away at their deficit in search of a draw or even an unlikely win.
Ellyse Perry said Australia would have enforced the follow-on had they taken the final two wickets as they push for a series-winning victory.
All-rounder Perry, one of the superstars of women's cricket for more than a decade but dropped from last week's Twenty20, had expertly led the Australia attack with 2-35 until Knight's fightback late on.
Perry dismissed Tammy Beaumont lbw for five and also bowled Sophia Dunkley via an inside edge for 15.
Like Perry, 18-year-old Darcie Brown found pace and movement with the first new ball.
She benefitted from Winfield-Hill's ill-advised drive, which gave her a first Test scalp, and also took a fine diving catch to complete Jones' disappointing dismissal off the bowling of Annabel Sutherland.
Leg-spinner Alana King found turn and bowled with impressive accuracy too to add a further dimension to Australia's attack, trapping Brunt lbw for her first international wicket.
There were further disappointing dismissals from an England perspective, however. Debutant Charlie Dean slog-swept Ashleigh Gardner to deep square leg and Anya Shrubsole tamely hit a Jess Jonassen long-hop to cover.
Seamer Brunt had been England's stand-out performer on day one, taking three wickets, and she took the final two wickets to fall before Australia declared.
The hosts' lower-order was strangely tentative before their declaration with only 10 runs coming in the 30 minutes played.
Most of the credit for that must go to Brunt, however, who bowled Sutherland with a perfect delivery that nipped off the pitch and hit the top of off stump.
Her five-wicket haul was her third in Tests, 17 years after her first, and her eighth in all formats for England.
England bowler Brunt: "You can win from anywhere. The last hour was brilliant in terms of giving back some hope to us.
"We will look to reduce that deficit and then come out and fight like hell."
Australia all-rounder Perry: "It would have been lovely to get her out but kudos to Heather. The way she played was so important to her team.
"The partnership from Ecclestone and Knight swung a little bit of the momentum back to England but we have had a pretty good day."