PERTH, (Reuters) – England tightened their grip on the Ashes yesterday, ripping out Australia’s top order cheaply and dismissing the hosts for 268 on day one of the third test.
England’s seamers blasted through the first four batsmen for 36 runs during a fiery morning session before Australia fought back bravely as the greentop pitch flattened out under a baking hot sun at the WACA ground.
Openers Andrew Strauss, on 12, and Alastair Cook, 17, survived the last 12 overs to see England to 29 for no loss at stumps, a strong position as they seek the victory that would ensure they retain the Ashes.
Free-swinging tail-end cameos by pacemen Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle delighted home fans, but served to underline a missed opportunity by Australia’s top order to weather the early attack and build a big total.
“I don’t think it’s (the total) as below par as some people would think,” Mike Hussey, the only top-order batsman to survive England’s early onslaught, told reporters.
“I’ve played in quite a few test matches here where the first innings totals have been in the mid-200s, so I guess tomorrow will tell the tale if we’re below par or not.
“It was pretty tough (early) but I thought as the ball got older and the moisture came out of the wicket it probably settled down a little bit more and played a bit more true,” added Hussey, whose 61 was his third half-century after he made 195 in the first test in Brisbane.
Having lurched to 12 for three in the first 15 minutes, Hussey’s 68-run stand with wicketkeeper Brad Haddin lifted the hosts to 179 for six at tea.
Johnson, recalled after being dropped for the Adelaide test, continued the lower order rally in a slog-frenzy with Siddle who finished unbeaten on 35 as the tail added 89 runs in the final session.
England fast bowler James Anderson struck in the fourth over after tea when wicketkeeper Haddin, on 53, nicked a thick edge to Graeme Swann who took a smart catch at slip.
Anderson bowled Ryan Harris for three in his next over before Johnson celebrated a brave half century.
Johnson’s heroics were halted by Steve Finn, however, who dismissed the paceman for 62 after enticing him into a poorly hit pull shot straight to Anderson at square leg.
Spinner Swann dismissed Ben Hilfenhaus for 13 for his second wicket, caught by Cook at short leg to leave Siddle stranded.
Chris Tremlett earlier capped a brilliant return to the test team by removing Steve Smith for seven shortly after lunch for his third wicket to leave Australia reeling on 69 for five.
The tall fast bowler dismissed the notion that England had let the Australians off the hook.
“A couple of their guys did play well,” said Tremlett, who replaced the injured Stuart Broad in the team for his first test in more than three years.
“The wicket flattened out and the ball did get a bit softer, so we’re just trying to stick to our plans and toil away.”
Swann, called in to give the seamers’ relief as the temperature soared above 30 degrees Celsius, was carted for three boundaries by the enterprising Haddin in his first over but responded by having Hussey caught behind for 61 just before tea.
Australia trail 1-0 in the five-test series and already appear to be in survival mode with England needing victory in Perth to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series and ensure they take the Ashes home for the first time in 24 years.
Strauss landed the first psychological blow by winning the toss and the call to put Australia in proved correct as Tremlett bowled Philip Hughes with his sixth ball, then removed Michael Clarke for four.
Anderson clinched the key wicket of Ricky Ponting for 12 after the struggling Australian captain nicked a shot to third slip where Paul Collingwood dived high to his right to take a superb one-handed catch.
Finn compounded the hosts’ misery by dismissing Shane Watson lbw for 13 shortly before lunch after landing a yorker plum on the opening batsman’s toe in a decision confirmed by TV review.
Australia first innings
S. Watson lbw b Finn 13
P. Hughes b Tremlett 2
R. Ponting c Collingwood b Anderson 12
M. Clarke c Prior b Tremlett 4
M. Hussey c Prior b Swann 61
S. Smith c Strauss b Tremlett 7
B. Haddin c Swann b Anderson 53
M. Johnson c Anderson b Finn 62
R. Harris b Anderson 3
P. Siddle not out 35
B. Hilfenhaus c Cook b Swann 13
Extras (lb-3) 3
Total (all out, 76 overs) 268
Fall of wickets: 1-2 2-17 3-28 4-36 5-69 6-137 7-189 8-201 9-233 10-268
Bowling: Anderson 20-3-61-3, Tremlett 23-3-63-3, Finn 15-1-86-2, Collingwood 2-0-3-0, Swann 16-0-52-2.
England first innings
A. Strauss not out 12
A. Cook not out 17
Total (no wicket, 12 overs) 29
To bat: J. Trott, K. Pietersen, P. Collingwood, I. Bell, M. Prior, G. Swann, J. Anderson, S. Finn, C. Tremlett
Bowling (to date): Hilfenhaus 4-2-5-0, Harris 4-1-16-0, Siddle 2-1-4-0, Johnson 2-1-4-0.