Score after day one at the WACA, Perth:
Australia: 326 for 6 (Smith 103*, Warner 60, Haddin 55)
A Steven Smith century helped dig Australia out of the mire on the first day in Perth, with his side recovering from 143 for five wickets to 326 for six at the close of play. England must close Australia's innings quickly tomorrow to hold realistic hopes of fighting back in this series.
The series in England was characterised by England’s proclivity for winning the big moments. At crucial junctures in days and matches it would be England who would seize the initiative, with Australia too often falling away.
The exact opposite has thus far characterised the return series.
Today, with Australia 143-5 having won the toss and elected to bat, England had a fantastic opportunity to bowl Australia out cheaply on a flat pitch and take a foothold in the series.
However, as it was, Steven Smith, Brad Haddin, and later Mitchell Johnson frustrated England until the close, with the hosts finishing on 326-6.
England will still feel with quick wickets tomorrow that they have a chance in this match, but considering the struggles of England’s batsmen so far Australia will certainly feel the happier of the two teams after day one.
England’s bowling coach David Saker, speaking at the close of play was strident in his criticism of his bowlers.
It was a disappointing day for all the bowlers. We pride ourselves on really being able to restrict teams from scoring, we put pressure on teams very well. We found it hard today.
Conditions were admittedly very difficult for bowling, and if it wasn’t for the insecurity that comes from the struggling batsmen this day may well have been more positively received.
However, England never really bowled well enough to have Australia 143 for five and when challenged by a pairing who applied themselves suitably England’s shortfalls were exposed. They certainly bowled too short throughout the day, and very few balls were going on to hit the stumps.
All the same, Saker’s criticism was surprising, but reveals management frustration at the failure of their plan to “bowl dry” and, as Saker loosely referred to, take wickets through a build-up of pressure.
Indeed, the frustration at struggles to bowl economically will have been perpetuated by the decision earlier in the day to not select one of the taller, more aggressive trio of Steven Finn, Boyd Rankin and Chris Tremlett who may have been similarly expensive but at least more threatening.
England’s crumb of comfort today was the fielding, which, a symptom of their struggles in Brisbane and Adelaide, was much improved here. Ben Stokes also continues to show promise for the future.
Selection pressure was mounting on Smith prior to this innings; a maiden century in the dead Oval Test match had seemingly been quickly forgotten and his failures with the bat so far in the series were piling up.
This hundred, a hundred under pressure, and in a pivotal situation will thus be extra special.
His aggression was checked to start, and Smith displayed all the caution that his top-order team mates did not. He was rewarded for doing so.
Haddin meanwhile is becoming an increasingly prickly thorn in England’s side, and added to his eight Ashes fifties after tea. His gritty determination is priceless in an often profligate Australian batting order.
Meanwhile the collapse of the top order reaffirmed lingering suspicions of its vulnerability, with Chris Rogers, Shane Watson and George Bailey all looking out of form and all playing loose shots to lead to their demise (or in Rogers' case, a lapse of focus leading to the run out).
For a short period, with David Warner and Michael Clarke at the crease things looked like they’d run away from England with plenty of boundaries flowing early on.
But England’s discipline returned briefly either side of lunch to leave Australia’s fate in the hands of the lower order.
England resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes to the team that lost in Adelaide, with Tim Bresnan coming in for Monty Panesar being the only alteration.
Struggling batsmen, thus, continue to be selected.
Such continuity of selection is perhaps an acknowledgment of a poorly selected squad than anything else with Gary Ballance and Jonny Bairstow the only two, unconvincing, reserves.
England are a team averse to panic however, and apart from Stokes, whose role as a fifth bowler will have been seen as potentially pivotal in scorching temperatures, it would have been difficult to justify dropping any other batsman.
Matt Prior’s second innings 69 in Adelaide perhaps spared him such ignominy.
England’s rigidity of selection somewhat demonstrates their reluctance to do the unexpected, but is perhaps also an acceptance of poor squad selection, or on a more worrying level a lack of depth in English cricket.
Watching cricket in Perth can at times resemble watching cricket in fast forward.
Despite the pitch not retaining the pace and bounce of years gone-by it remains considerably, and notably faster than the majority of international pitches.
From the first delivery the ball seems to zip and bounce more than elsewhere and indeed that was no different today with James Anderson and Stuart Broad starting with energy and pace against an in-the-mood Warner.
Australia scored 107-3 in the first session from just 24 overs with 17 fours and a six being struck in vivacious opening exchanges.
Indeed, Warner is perhaps the most improved cricketer on the planet right now. The left-hander has already scored 346 runs at an average of 86 in the series and his power is drawing justifiable comparisons with Matthew Hayden and Virender Sehwag.
A slow over-rate throughout the day in sweltering conditions was masked by the nature of the cricket with runs and wickets flowing.