Steve Smith leads Australia’s Response in even Contest at the WACA

Steve Smith’s serene, unbeaten 92 has kept Australia well and truly in the contest with another masterful display of batting from the Australian skipper.

At stumps on day two, Australia was 3-203, trailing England by 200 runs after the tourists were dismissed for 403 earlier in the day.

Geoff Lemon’s analysis

The last six wickets. That’s where the problems have arisen for England during this Ashes. When Australia has batted, the English haven’t been able to chisel through from six wickets down. And when England has the bat, exactly the opposite has occurred.

6-35. That’s what England lost to wrap up an innings for 403 — a decent score, no doubt, but one that could have been much more imposing. In the first innings at Brisbane, another decent start was squandered with 6-56, while in the second innings those six wickets added 82. The run chase at Adelaide was surrendered when the last six wickets went down for 57 runs.

As for Australia, the lower order has chipped in when required, and someone in the top order has batted through with them. Steve Smith rescued the side from four wickets down in Brisbane, Shaun Marsh did the job in Adelaide, both times setting up important first-innings leads.

In Perth, England didn’t even get the chance to get the Aussies four wickets down. Shaun Marsh batting at number five should have been gone when he swept the ball into James Vince’s boot at short leg, and saw it pop straight up in the air.

But Vince and Bairstow both lunged, and each was distracted by the other. In the end, Vince just about fingertipped it out of Bairstow’s glove. Another reprieve for the hosts, another missed chance for the visitors. Add it to the list.

Smith and Usman Khawaja (50) shared in a 124-run partnership for the third wicket to ensure Australia responded strongly after the loss of both openers for relatively cheap scores.

Shaun Marsh will resume alongside Smith after finishing at 7 not out at stumps.

Australia looked to start brightly with the bat with both Cameron Bancroft (25) and David Warner (22) looking positive in the opening exchanges, before Craig Overton (2-46) procured the breakthrough.

It was the prized wicket of Warner that fell first as Overton coaxed an edge off Warner’s forward drive through to the keeper in the 14th over.

Bancroft fell for a similar score, trapped LBW for Overton’s second wicket and given his marching orders on review.

That brought Khawaja to the crease, and despite the odd streaky shot — including a thick edge past the flat-footed Joe Root at slip in what was a glaring missed chance for England — Khawaja produced a stoic anchor-role knock in perfect sync with Smith.

Steve Smith drives on day two at the WACA

While Smith reached his half-ton with relative ease, Khawaja played the patient partner, eventually reaching his 50 off 122 balls.

But no sooner had Khawaja reached the milestone, he was immediately on his way back to the pavilion after being trapped LBW by Chris Woakes (1-42), ultimately given out on review.

Smith, into the high seventies at this point, kept the tempo up as neither England’s pacemen nor spinner Mooen Ali could find a penetrative line to the untroubled captain.

Smith put the handbrake on in the final few overs, determined to keep hold of his wicket for a day-three assault on another century milestone.

England’s bright start undone, but posts imposing score

For the first hour of day two, England continued on from where it left off, with Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow continuing to flay the Australian attack to all corners.