A morning that brought two wickets for England and a sniff of a drought-breaking Ashes win gave way to a bleak afternoon for the tourists as rain washed out most of day four on Friday and left Australia well-placed to save the fourth test.
The home side were 102 for two in their second innings at the Melbourne Cricket Ground when rain interrupted play before tea and the showers lingered long enough for umpires to abandon the day without another ball bowled.
David Warner was 40 not out, with captain Steve Smith on 25 and Australia still needing another 61 runs to make England bat again.
But even with the promise of reverse swing, Joe Root's bowlers face a big task on an unresponsive pitch to prevent Australia's batsmen from batting them out of the game.
"(The pitch) is getting slower," Australia coach Darren Lehmann told host broadcaster Channel Nine. "It's tough work for a new batter. So once you're in, you've got to stay in.
"Our boys are fighting really hard. A couple of good (England) balls to get the wickets and Smith and the vice- captain (Warner) went about their work."
Australia regained the Ashes after the third test in Perth and hold an unassailable 3-0 lead in the series but England had hope of cracking a first win after Alastair Cook's unbeaten 244 propelled them to a first innings lead of 164.
They had resumed their first innings on 491-9 in the morning but were unable to extend their total, with tail-ender James Anderson dismissed first ball by paceman Pat Cummins, fending a catch straight to Cameron Bancroft at short leg.
That left former captain Cook unbeaten on his overnight score, a record total among openers who have carried their bat through an innings.
Cook became the 46th player to achieve the feat in tests and also the first England batsman to do so in 20 years, since Mike Atherton's 94 not out against New Zealand in Christchurch in 1997.
Australia's second innings began brightly on a cloudy but dry morning, with England losing a review for a caught behind decision when opener Bancroft played at a Tom Curran ball in the seventh over of the innings.
However, the tourists seamers struck twice to leave Australia wobbling at 65-2 before Warner and Smith showed patience and poise in their unbroken stand of 38.
All-rounder Chris Woakes made the early breakthrough, bowling Bancroft for 27, with England quick Anderson having number three Usman Khawaja caught behind for 11.
Australia resumed on 70-2 after lunch but added only 16 runs before the first rain interruption.
Play was soon back on but only another 33 minutes were possible before the session was brought to a premature close.
COOK TOPS RECORD BOOKS WITH MCG MILESTONE
- Cook's 244 is the highest score by a Test opener carrying his bat. The previous mark was New Zealander Glenn Turner's 223 against West Indies in Kingston, 1972.
- It was the first time anybody has carried their bat in a completed Test innings at the MCG.
- Cook became the eighth Englishman to achieve the feat at any ground and the first since Mike Atherton in 1997.
- It was the first time an opener from either Australia or England has achieved the feat in an Ashes Test since Geoffrey Boycott in 1979.
- It was the highest Test score by a foreign batsman at the MCG, surpassing Viv Richards' 208 in 1984.
- Cook's previous best score in an Ashes series was 235 not out at the Gabba in 2010, while his highest overall score is 294 against India in 2011.
- With this innings, Cook leapfrogged Brian Lara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Mahela Jayawardene to become the sixth-highest scorer in Test cricket with 11,956 runs. England's most prolific scorer needs another 445 runs to overtake Kumar Sangakkara in fifth spot overall.
- Cook arrived in Melbourne having scored just 83 runs at 13.83 from his previous six innings. He now has 327 and sits behind only Steve Smith (502) for most runs in the series.