SHANE WARNE delivered a potentially decisive message with the bat to keep Australia on course for an historic Ashes whitewash in the final Test against England.
The legendary leg-spinner has ensured his place in cricket's folklore through his feats with the ball, but in his farewell Test he played a key role in establishing a crucial first-innings lead just as England seemed set to secure an advantage of their own.
Warne hammered 71 off 65 balls, including nine fours and two sixes, and helped Australia add a crucial 75 for the final two wickets after they had resumed the third day 103 runs adrift on 188-4 and lost Mike Hussey in only the second over.
He dominated a 44-ball 58-run stand with Adam Gilchrist and a further 68-run partnership with Stuart Clark, got involved in a sledging battle with close fielder Paul Collingwood and then pounced to claim the crucial wicket of England captain Andrew Flintoff just before the close.
His determined efforts switched momentum so effectively England had slipped to 114-5 by the end, just 12 runs ahead, to put Australia in sight of only the second Ashes whitewash in history following the 5-0 in 1920-21.
England had been given a flying start with seamer James Anderson inducing Hussey into edging behind off the eighth delivery of the day to boost their hopes of securing a priceless lead.
But an unusually cautious Andrew Symonds teamed up in a 70-run stand with hard-hitting Gilchrist to stabilise the innings and set the platform for Warne's later strokeplay.
Gilchrist set the tone with the first of eight boundaries off Anderson in only his second over at the crease and never looked back during a superb innings of 62 off 71 balls.
He did enjoy his share of good fortune, though, and was dropped on 22 by Anderson at short extra cover after he attempted to drive Steve Harmison on the up and then hooked just short of Kevin Pietersen on the midwicket boundary off Sajid Mahmood on 48.
His attacking display took Australia past England's first-innings total of 291 but Symonds fell when he was bowled attempting a big swing facing left-arm spinner Monty Panesar.
England felt aggrieved that Panesar did not also claim a second wicket in the same over when Warne, who had launched him for a six and a four, appeared to be caught behind off the glove only for umpire Aleem Dar to reject the appeal.
That prompted the war of words between Warne and Collingwood and umpire Billy Bowden had to step in to calm down the situation, but not before Warne had said: "Keep it coming, pal - you're just helping me to concentrate more."
It was certainly true during Warne's partnership with Gilchrist, which was broken only by yet another umpiring misjudgement when Australia's wicketkeeper was ruled by Bowden to have edged behind when television replays suggested he missed the ball by some distance.
Brett Lee fell cheaply after lunch but Clark successfully supported Warne and hit a determined 35 before miscueing an attempted pull of Mahmood which was caught at cover.
Then, with only last man Glenn McGrath for company, Warne decided to become even more aggressive in a desperate attempt to claim his first Test century, only to be stumped charging Panesar.
England's reply began badly with Alastair Cook mistiming an attempted pull off Lee which spooned into the air and was taken by Gilchrist in the third over.
Two balls later fellow opener Andrew Strauss was felled when he ducked into a short ball from Lee.