By David Brett
PERTH (Reuters) - England had boxed Australia into a corner in the first innings of the third Ashes test in Perth on Friday, but not for the first time in the series the home side came out fighting and the tourists were unable to throw a knockout punch.
The rally from Australia's middle-to-lower order was reminiscent of their recovery in the first test in Brisbane and is becoming a common theme under the pugnacious leadership of coach Darren Lehmann.
"It's disappointing we can't finish teams off, which we've got a good record of doing," England's bowling coach David Saker told reporters.
In the first innings in each of the tests in this series so far, Australia's numbers five to eight batsmen average a combined 192, compared with England's 112.
Facing this kind of lower-order resistance, it is no wonder that England are staring down the barrel of a third successive defeat and the return of the Ashes to their fiercest cricketing rival.
"No doubt we let it slip," Saker added. "It's probably not the first time this series as well we've had them on the ropes to a degree and we haven't finished the job."
The partnerships blunted England's bowling attack, which wilted in the extreme heat, and put Australia into a potentially dominant position.
In Brisbane Australia were 132 for six before posting 295 all out. In Adelaide they were 174 for four and 257 five before declaring on 509 for nine.
In Perth they slumped to 143 for five until Steve Smith (103 not out), wicketkeeper Brad Haddin (55) and paceman Mitchell Johnson (39 not out) helped Australia to the close on 326 for six.
"It was a pretty tough part of the game. They'd taken a few wickets and were pretty high so to dig through there and get through a few of their big bowlers spells and cash in late in the game, that was the plan," Smith said.
The Aussie number five added that his first test century on home soil was up there with the best in his career and relieved a bit of pressure coming into this game.
Haddin's contribution should not be ignored. The keeper has not scored less than 50 in each of his four innings in the series and now averages 80 for the three matches.
Add the brute force of Johnson batting at number eight and it is not hard to see why England continue to have a mountain to climb. (Editing by Ed Osmond)