Australian captain Steve Smith again proved to be a major obstacle as England was not able to capitalise on their overnight momentum on the second day of the third Ashes Test in Perth on Friday.
England first innings centurion Dawid Malan urged his team to ramp up the pressure on the home side at the end of the first day’s play, but a late order collapse by the visitors and the broad bat of Smith ensured the match was evenly poised at the end of the second day.
At stumps, Australia were 203 for three, with Smith on 92 and Shaun Marsh on seven, a deficit of 200 runs with seven wickets in hand after dismissing England for 403.
The tourists appeared to miss a golden chance to remove Marsh just before stumps, when the left-hander hit the ball onto Mark Stoneman’s foot at short leg and the fielder was unable to cling onto the rebound as he and wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow both lunged at the catch.
England had looked set to post a massive score when they were 368 for four with Malan and Bairstow seemingly in total control but then lost six wickets for 35 runs in a stunning collapse before lunch.
Second-gamer Chris Overton (2-46) then raised English spirits again by removing openers David Warner (22) and Cameron Bancroft (25) in quick succession, before Smith again proved a major stumbling block.
He paired with Usman Khawaja to add 124 for the third wicket and was poised to score his 22nd Test century when play resumes on the third day.
Smith was rarely troubled by the English bowlers and played shots to all points of the ground, having faced just 122 balls and hit 14 fours and one six.
Khawaja, who survived a tough caught and bowled chance from Overton before he scored, was adjudged lbw to Chris Woakes for 50, and failed with his third umpire review.
Australia lead the series 2-0 and can regain the Ashes with victory at the WACA Ground, although heavy rain is forecast for the final two days.
England started the day in total control, but ultimately failed to capitalise on a record fifth-wicket partnership by centurions Malan (140) and Bairstow (119).
Bairstow put a controversial few weeks behind him on and off the field to post his fourth Test century as part of a 237-run stand with Malan, who notched his maiden Test century.
The pair notched a new record fifth-wicket partnership for England against Australia, beating a long-standing mark set in 1938 by Eddie Paynter and Denis Compton at Trent Bridge.
Having come together with England under pressure at 131 for four shortly after lunch Thursday, the pair breathed life back into their team’s Ashes defence.
Malan’s wicket was the first to fall Friday, with his breakthrough innings finally came to an end when he was brilliantly caught by substitute fielder Peter Handscomb from the bowling of Nathan Lyon.
Bairstow’s century was a welcome knock for the English batsman after a controversial tour, with a headbutt incident at a Perth bar causing unwanted attention, and a war of words with the Australians on and off the field.
Promoted to six, Bairstow was bowled by Mitchell Starc (4-91) as wickets fell in a rush late in the England innings.