Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 1st day December 14, 2006

Australia rue wasted opportunities

Andrew Symonds pushed his luck once too often against Monty Panesar © Getty Images

Ricky Ponting failed and Australia's batting faltered. The captain has been in such imposing form with 447 runs in the first two Tests his dismissal almost sparked Bradmanesque cries of "he's out". Instead of closing quickly over Ponting's miss and working on a total to shut England out of the game, the Australians added their own mistakes.

Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke deserved to feel the most disappointment at their wasted opportunities. Both were set and scoring freely when they gave up their wickets to cross-bat efforts that needed to be saved until later in the day.

Every Test innings must feel like Symonds' last, but this time he turned up with a mind uncluttered by his predicament. Called in as the allrounder ahead of other deserving batting candidates, Symonds appeared at No. 6 in the second session and swung with freedom until helping Monty Panesar towards his five wickets.

A cut had brought his downfall and he stayed stuck to the crease after seeing Geraint Jones spill the first attempt at the catch and mop up the second. Until then Symonds' strength had been the straightness of his muscular hitting, but he could not control his high-paced tempo and added an unnecessary weapon.

The first of two hefty straight sixes thrust Symonds into double-figures and after five deliveries of Panesar's 13th over he had added 17. It was an awesome display of hitting that few would have bothered to attempt in a Test and in the next over Panesar showed why.

The three times Panesar was driven by Symonds for boundaries he had pitched the ball up, so he slid in a flatter one that over-spun and clipped the edge. Symonds was unable to reduce his intensity and could not believe his decision. Instead of leaving the ball it was the batsman going for 26.

Michael Clarke still has work to do in finding the balance between attack and defence © Getty Images

Clarke was already in the dressing room wishing with Justin Langer, who had been too tentative against Panesar in the over before lunch, that they had also been more thoughtful at the crucial moment. The most comfortable and classy batsman of the day, Clarke had eased into the 30s by driving to mid-off and cover and choosing clever quick singles.

He was slightly ruffled by Harmison when popping a shorter delivery just wide of short leg and then unfurled a powerful pull. The problem arose because the ball pitched wide of the off stump and despite Clarke finding the middle it went to Harmison in his follow through. A short innings in which he made batting look so breezy ended with a rush similar to Symonds'.

After Clarke's superb century in Adelaide and an unbeaten finish to the second Test it appeared he had weaned off the impetuous streaks. Work is still to be done and all batsmen are constantly trying to find a suitable balance between attack and defence, but on days when the order limps it is essential. Australia were 4 for 121 when Clarke left Symonds, a man trying to secure his five-day future, with the job of pursuing a sizeable total.

A first-innings of 244 was not satisfactory on this surface and the rashness of the middle-order pair was a huge benefit for England. Clarke and Symonds need only to look to Michael Hussey as an example of someone who plays with perfect pace.

The start was difficult so Hussey waited for the situation to improve and then picked off the bowlers, particularly Panesar, who was taken for a string of square drives. Unfortunately for Hussey he was stranded on 74 when the innings closed and it was a horrible position for a No. 4 to find himself. His less thoughtful team-mates deserved to apologise.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo