Steve Smith dug his career and Australia’s first innings out of serious trouble with his first Test hundred on home soil on Friday as England’s bowling attack failed again to finish off a teetering middle order. After winning the toss and batting for the third consecutive Ashes Test, Australia slumped to 143 for 5 before Smith combined with vice-captain Brad Haddin (55) for 124 runs and with Mitchell Johnson (39 not out) in an unbroken 59-run stand to lift the total to 326 for 6 by stumps.
The first day at the WACA had shades of the opening days in Brisbane and Adelaide, when England took clusters of wickets to have Australia on the verge of a major collapse before letting them off the hook.
Australia responded with big victories in the first two Tests and came into the third match with a chance of reclaiming the Ashes at a venue where England hasn’t tasted victory since 1978. “No doubt we let it slip ... it’s probably not the first time this series as well we’ve had them on the ropes to a degree and we haven’t finished the job,’’ England bowling coach David Saker said. “We didn’t deliver what we should have delivered today.”
With the opposing captains each playing their 100th Tests, there was extra attention on the toss. Clarke’s win there gave him the first points in the personal duel but Alastair Cook struck back when he caught the Australia skipper just before lunch. England had the upper hand when Graeme Swann (2/71) dismissed Clarke (24) and David Warner (60) on either side of lunch and Stuart Broad (2/78) removed George Bailey (7).
Smith needed a big score to prove to critics that he deserved his spot and set about doing that with Haddin, who came to the rescue again with his fourth consecutive half century.
Smith said the personal pressure was amplified by Australia’s position in the game. “It was a pretty tough part of the game, they’d taken a few wickets and were pretty high,’’ Smith said. “So to dig through there, and get through a few of their big bowlers’ spells and cash in late, that was the plan.”
Bowler to batting star<\b>
Smith played five matches in the 2010-11 Ashes series defeat but didn’t play another Test for more than two years until he was recalled for the losing tours to India and England from March to August.