Steven Finn
Finn was Australia's chief tormentor again in his first Test for two years.Getty Images

England stand on the brink of retaking the lead in the Ashes series after Steven Finn took 5-45 to bring Australia to their knees on day two of the third Test at Edgbaston.

Finn took his first five-wicket haul in Test cricket for 26 months as the tourists' batting line-up folded again as England tamed the swinging and seaming ball.

David Warner provided the only resistance with a quick-fire 77, which included the joint-fastest Ashes half-century, but Australia limped to 168 for 7 at the close with a lead of only 23 and only three second innings wickets remaining.

And though Michael Clarke's side avoided the ignominy of a first defeat inside two days since 1890, Australia are all-but powerless to prevent going behind in the series with two matches remaining.

James Anderson limped off in the evening session with a side injury which will be assessed before his fitness can be determined for the fourth Test at Trent Bridge, but the incident was the only negative on a day where England totally dominated their opponents from Down Under.

Mitchell Johnson
A virtuoso display from Johnson gave Australia brief hope on the second morning.Getty Images

Looking to cement their position of authority after a stunning performance on day one, England surpassed Australia's first innings total in the opening over of the day through Ali's fine cover drive.

But England's wings were clipped as soon as the second over amid a devastating spell of fast bowling from Mitchell Johnson, as he bounced out first Jonny Bairstow (5) - his 300th Test victim, and then Ben Stokes (0).

The two unplayable deliveries represented a stark reminder that Australia still had a role to play in the Test and halted England's hopes of building an unassailable first innings advantage.

Joe Root (63) and Ali put on a sprightly 40-run partnership before the former edged behind in lacklustre fashion off a wayward Mitchell Starc, and Jos Buttler (9), who failed to review being given out lbw off Nathan Lyon, soon followed after an uncharacteristically timid innings.

Australia were sensing a route back into the match with the deficit standing at 56 with seven wickets down, but Ali took the game away with a fine half century - the fourth of his Test career - with a spate of boundaries and Mitchell Johnson being subjected to consistent punishment.

Moeen Ali
Ali pushed England into a lead of 145 runs.Getty Images

Stuart Broad (31) and Ali (59) were dismissed in successive Josh Hazlewood overs after lunch and though Anderson was caught behind off Starc for just 3, England held a lead of 145 after being bowled out for a modest 281.

The tourists had to now combined attacking intent with a cautious approach, and they survived barely four overs before Broad had Chris Rogers (6) trapped lbw.

Warner meanwhile continued his impressive second innings form, seemingly ignoring the pressure of the situation and hitting England to all parts.

The New South Wales opener was however powerless to prevent the chaos occurring at the other end, where Australia continued to be bamboozled by the returning Finn.

Steven Smith (8) was the first to succumb to the pace of Finn, hooking high into the air and into the gloves of Buttler.

Steven Smith
Smith was dismissed by Finn for the second time in the match.Getty Images

Captain Michael Clarke (8) and Adam Voges (0) then followed in successive balls with edges to the slips before Mitchell Marsh (6) followed as Finn made a mess of his stumps to leave the visitors 92 for 5, and trailing by 53 runs.

Warner had meanwhile gone to the joint-fastest Ashes half century but when Anderson returned for his first over after tea he miss-timed a pull and found Adam Lyth at cover.

But the Lancashire seamer's 33rd birthday ended on a sour note as he left the field mid-over after picking up a side strain, a blow which makes him a major doubt for the remainder of the series.

The normally vociferous atmosphere around Edgbaston soured upon Anderson's exit, with Johnson and Peter Nevill nurdling Australia into a narrow lead without even a vague intention to attack a depleted England bowling line-up.

The partnership was worth 42 runs, accumulated over 72 minutes, when Finn took his fifth wicket from nowhere from his first ball of a new spell as Johnson (14) totally miss-timed a pull to reignite the atmosphere in Birmingham.

But when Buttler put down Nevill on 35 England's hopes of completing victory inside two days ended, however they will be expected to rap up victory on day three and take a 2-1 series lead following another day of complete dominance.