Steve Smith takes the initiative after England batting collapse

England’s tail order failed to take advantage of good start before Smith excelled with the bat

Steve Smith knocks a shot past Craig Overton. Photo: Greg Wood/Getty Images

Steve Smith knocks a shot past Craig Overton. Photo: Greg Wood/Getty Images

 

Ashes third Test, day two, Perth: England 403 all out; Australia 203-3

England had their foot on the jugular after an hour’s play on Friday but they could not keep it there for long. When England were 368 for 4 with two centurions at the crease the Australians were in a bit of bother. Then Peter Handscomb, who is not playing in this game, made his bid for the man of the match award.

A sliced drive from Dawid Malan against a Nathan Lyon off-break went up in the air and Handscomb, briefly on the field for David Warner, sprinted to his left, dived and grabbed the ball inches above the ground. The dismissal of Malan triggered the subsidence, the first of six wickets England lost for a paltry 35 runs. That much-feted lower order, which has extricated the side from some deep holes in the past, does not function so well in Australia. There were more echoes of the Ashes tour of four years ago as the tail was swept away by the hostility and aggression of the Australian pacemen. It is not so surprising since these are fine bowlers and the pitch here has some life but they don’t like it up ’em in the lower order.

Despite excellent hundreds from Malan and Jonny Bairstow, who added 237 together, England’s highest partnership at the Waca, Australia were right back in the game having bowled England out for 403, most definitely not an impregnable position. In a recent match here in November – of four days duration – Western Australia declared on 514 for 7 against South Australia and lost. Moreover Steve Smith, later in the day came out and did his Don Bradman impersonations, clipping the ball into the gaps on either side of the wicket in his idiosyncratic way with barely a false stroke. At the close the imperious Smith was unbeaten on 92 and Australia were 203 for 3.

It had started so encouragingly for England as Malan and Bairstow blunted the second new ball. Australia began with four maidens and an unsuccessful review against Malan that hinted at some desperation. Then the England pair were into their stride with Bairstow crunching two sweet drives to the off-side boundary in an over from Pat Cummins. Bairstow sped through the 90s and a hook shot off Mitchell Marsh took him to three figures for the fourth time in Test cricket. He celebrated in the approved manner, bat aloft, helmet removed and then, departing from the norm, he delivered a playful, good-natured headbutt to his helmet.

Jonny Bairstow of England celebrates his century during day two of the third Ahes Test between Australia and England at the Waca. Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images
Jonny Bairstow of England celebrates his century during day two of the third Ahes Test between Australia and England at the Waca. Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images

The Australians were in some disarray but it took only one wicket, that of Malan, for them to raise their game and swarm all over the England team. Two balls after Malan’s exit for what may be a career-changing 140, Moeen Ali was caught at second slip from a regulation short delivery. He looked surprised by the bounce achieved by Cummins even though he had been watching the partnership for many hours. Now the Australians were on the stampede. After two crisp boundaries Chris Woakes was caught at long leg flicking at another short ball.

Any hope of a recovery evaporated when Mitchell Starc removed Bairstow’s middle stump with a full-length delivery that the batsman was seeking to clip to the leg-side boundary. Thereafter Craig Overton and Stuart Broad were both dismissed fending at short deliveries, though not before Broad had walloped a mighty, wind-assisted six off Hazlewood when the ball travelled 104 metres in the direction of the old scoreboard.

The England total seemed to shrink after a dozen overs in which the ball seldom evaded the middle of the bats of the Australian openers. Then Joe Root turned to Craig Overton and something happened. Overton, extracting more life than his peers, found the outside edge of David Warner’s bat. Two balls later he almost dismissed Usman Khawaja for a duck. A leading edge came back down the pitch; Overton dived to his left but the ball slipped from his grasp. Then, after a successful review by England, Cameron Bancroft was sent on his way, lbw to the lanky Devonian.

Overton would now be given a long eight-over spell before tea since he had been the solitary threatening bowler; here was more long-term good news about England’s bowling ammunition though this was tempered when Overton left the field after bowling two overs in his second spell. He did, however, return later, albeit with a painful ribcage.

So Khawaja kept Smith company even if he was overshadowed by him. On 28 the left-hander edged a delivery from Woakes towards Root at second slip but the England captain never spotted the ball; for his information it whistled past his left ear much to Woakes’s exasperation. So this pair added 124 together, whereupon Khawaja was lbw to Woakes, who had bowled with more vim than his senior colleagues.

Bairstow and James Vince let a catch slip through both of their hands. Photo: Dave Hunt/EPA
Bairstow and James Vince let a catch slip through both of their hands. Photo: Dave Hunt/EPA

All the while Smith was superb, delicately finding the gaps like a snooker player controlling the cue ball. It did not matter who was bowling. England set some funky fields for him, whether they were the creations of Bond, that’s Shane Bond, who has now left the party, or even a mysterious M it is hard to tell. But they did not work. Sometimes they seemed to make life easier for Smith since there were so many gaps for him.

Without ever appearing to hurry Smith cruised along with a strike rate in the 80s. Shaun Marsh had an escape on seven when a rebound off the boot of Mark Stoneman at short leg bobbled in the air, whereupon the fielder and keeper became confused and failed to snatch the rebound. Moeen could have done with a fluky wicket. Meanwhile Smith had issued an unnecessary reminder that he is the best batsman in this series by a considerable margin. – Guardian service

Scorecard

Overnight: England 305-4 (D J Malan 110 no, J M Bairstow 75 no, M D Stoneman 56).

England first innings: D J Malan (c Sub) b Lyon 140; J M Bairstow (b Starc) 119; M M Ali (c Smith) b Cummins 0; C R Woakes (c Cummins) b Hazlewood 8; C Overton (c Bancroft) b Hazlewood 2; S C J Broad (c Bancroft) b Starc 12; J M Anderson (not out) 0.

Extras (14): b10; lb2; w1; nb1; pens 0.

Total (115.1 overs): 403 all out.

Fall: 1-26; 2-89; 3-115; 4-131; 5-368; 6-372; 7-389; 8-389; 9-393.

Bowling: Starc 25.1: 5, 91, 4; Hazlewood 28: 9, 92, 3; Cummins 28: 8, 84, 2; Lyon 22: 4, 73, 1; M R Marsh 9: 1, 43, 0; Smith 3: 1, 8, 0;

Australia first innings close: C T Bancroft (lbw) b Overton 25; D A Warner (c Bairstow) b Overton 22; U T Khawaja (lbw) b Woakes 50; S P D Smith (not out) 92; S E Marsh (not out) 7.

Extras (7): b2; lb4; w1; pens 0.

Total (62 overs): 203 for 3.

Fall: 1-44; 2-55; 3-179.

To Bat: M R Marsh, T D Paine, M A Starc, P J Cummins, N M Lyon, J R Hazlewood.

Bowling: Anderson 14: 6, 31, 0; Broad 12: 2, 50, 0; Woakes 15: 3, 42, 1; Overton 10: 1, 46, 2; M M Ali 11: 3, 28, 0.

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