Australia 3 for 203 (Smith 92*, S Marsh 7*) trail England 403 (Malan 140, Bairstow 119, Stoneman 56, Starc 4-91, Hazlewood 3-92) by 200 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Four years ago this week, Steven Smith spontaneously changed his technique while batting against England at the WACA, adding a preliminary movement in an innings that became his second Test century. Back at the same ground, against the same opposition, but now as Australia's captain and the best batsman in the world, Smith looked impenetrable as he sauntered towards what could become his 22nd Test hundred and dragged his team back into the contest on day two in Perth.
England had started the morning in a powerful position at 4 for 305, and an England Ashes record fifth-wicket partnership of 237 between Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow built the perfect platform for a hefty total. Along the way, Bairstow raised his first Test century in 18 months, but when their stand was broken the England lower order collapsed quickly on a WACA pitch offering some of the old pace and bounce, and their last six wickets fell for 35.
England were all out for 403 - still an imposing score, but not one that posed an insurmountable object for the Australians. And despite some fine bowling from Craig Overton, who picked off both of Australia's openers after they made starts, Smith ensured that his side finished the day in a satisfactory position at 3 for 203, trailing by 200 with seven wickets in hand. By the close, Smith was on 92 and Shaun Marsh had 7, having come to the crease after Usman Khawaja was lbw to Chris Woakes for 50.
Khawaja had scratched his way to his half-century from 122 deliveries, but his next ball was angled in from Woakes and struck Khawaja on the back leg. Given out on field, Khawaja reviewed the decision: there was more rocking and rolling in the third umpire's room than at an Elvis concert as Aleem Dar tried to ascertain whether a Snicko spike was ball on bat, but in the end Khawaja was sent on his way. Marsh might have followed him in the closing overs, only for a chance off Moeen Ali, rebounding from the boot of short leg, to somehow evade both Mark Stoneman and Bairstow.
Khawaja's fifty had come about half as quickly as Smith's, which was fitting for Smith looked about twice as good. There were some cracks in the pitch that provided the occasional spot of uneven bounce, but if it wasn't a road, Smith enjoyed driving on it all the same, punishing England's fast bowlers when they overpitched. He also latched on to short deliveries when he could, and dealt prolifically in boundaries on his way to a 58-ball half-century.
England were not helped by the absence of Overton for a period during the final session, as he appeared to struggle with a problem in his rib/chest region. He had clearly been England's most dangerous bowler during the early stages of Australia's innings, drawing an edge behind from David Warner on 22 from a ball that angled in and straightened, and then trapping Cameron Bancroft lbw for 25 with a delivery angled in from wide of the crease.
Overton might have added Khawaja to his wicket tally if he could have held on to a very difficult diving return chance early in the batsman's innings, and Khawaja had another life on 28 when his edge off Woakes was missed by Joe Root at slip. Khawaja went on to compile a 124-run stand with Smith, but it was barely half as big as the partnership between Malan and Bairstow that set up England's innings.
They broke the 79-year-old England Ashes record for a fifth-wicket partnership, which had been held by Denis Compton and Eddie Paynter, who put on 206 at Trent Bridge in 1938, and along the way Bairstow brought up his hundred from his 185th delivery with a single to fine leg. Fittingly, given the drama that followed the Brisbane Test, he celebrated his first Test hundred since the Lord's Test against Sri Lanka in June 2016 with an understated headbutt to his own helmet
The 237-run partnership finally ended when Malan was brilliantly caught by substitute fieldsman Peter Handscomb off the bowling of Nathan Lyon for 140. Malan failed to get to the pitch of the ball and in trying to hit Lyon over the top, succeeded only in spooning an edge up into the off side, where Handscomb ran briskly from backward point and took the catch while diving forward at full stretch, the kind of effort that Australia needed to turn their game around.
Moeen lasted only two deliveries before the extra bounce from Pat Cummins troubled him and the ball lobbed off his glove to Smith at slip. Another fine catch, this time from Cummins at long leg, ended Woakes' innings on 8 off the bowling of Josh Hazlewood, before Mitchell Starc curled one in to rattle the stumps of Bairstow, who was bowled for 119.
A short delivery from Hazlewood accounted for Overton, who on 2 managed only to fend the ball to Bancroft at short leg, and Starc wrapped up the innings by having Stuart Broad caught at short leg awkwardly swinging at a bouncer. Starc had finished with four wickets and Hazlewood three, and Australia's quick despatching of England's tail had kept them in the match. By stumps, England knew they had to find a way through Smith in order to keep their own Ashes campaign alive.