By Nick Mulvenney
PERTH (Reuters) - Australia's Steve Smith scored a brilliant century to help wrest control of the third Ashes test back from a revitalised England on a sweltering opening day at the WACA on Friday.
The hosts, who will recapture the urn with victory in Perth after winning the first two tests, looked in real trouble when the dismissal of George Bailey before tea reduced them to 143 for five.
Smith and wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, however, put on 124 for the sixth wicket with circumspect and, occasionally, aggressive innings that contrasted sharply with the cavalier efforts of their team mates and Australia reached the close on 326 for six.
They were separated when Haddin, who has scored half centuries in all four innings in the series, spooned the ball to James Anderson at midwicket off the bowling of Ben Stokes for 55 an hour before stumps.
Smith reached his second test century, however, and will resume on Saturday on 103 not out with Mitchell Johnson, unbeaten on 39.
"Yeah it was nice," Smith told reporters. "Obviously under a bit of pressure there losing a few wickets in the middle but ... hopefully we're in a decent position.
"If we start well tomorrow, we can post a really good score."
England were left ruing a missed opportunity to take control of the test and bowling coach David Saker was disappointed his paceman had let Australia off the hook by not bowling a consistent length.
"No doubt we let it slip," he said. "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."
After losing the toss for a third successive match and the chance to bat on what looked like an excellent surface, the tourists initially responded to their do-or-die situation with their sharpest display of the series to date.
Australia's batsmen looked intent on piling on the runs as quickly as possible - they were scoring at five an over at one stage - but also contributed to their own demise with rash strokes.
David Warner's attempted cut only to be caught at point for 60 would contend for the softest dismissal of the day but Bailey (seven) also came close to claiming the honours with a hook that saw him hole out on the boundary.
Captain Michael Clarke (24) will also be disappointed with the shot that led to his departure just before lunch, a wicket which followed the run out of opener Chris Rogers (11) and dismissal of Shane Watson (18) in the first hour.
DANCED A JIG
England spinner Graeme Swann, under pressure after disappointing displays in the Brisbane and Adelaide defeats, made a significant contribution by catching Watson well in the slips before accounting for dangermen Clarke and Warner with his bowling.
Seamer Stuart Broad took the wickets of Watson and Bailey and England, if not in charge, certainly had the upper hand at a ground where they have not won since 1978.
Smith had already signalled his intent with a big six to get off the mark, however, and when he was joined by Haddin, Australia's rearguard was in place.
While Smith played his scoring shots almost exclusively to the on side, Haddin favoured off but they both brought up their half centuries from 76 balls with five fours and two sixes.
With the temperatures out in the middle now exceeding 40 degrees Celsius, the pair forced England to labour long into the extended final session under the blazing Perth sunshine.
"It was a pretty tough part of the game," said Smith. "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."
Haddin had performed his country a similar service on the first day of the series opener in Brisbane, coming in with Australia at 132 for six and rescuing the innings with a gritty 94.
After he had finally departed to shatter the late afternoon torpor that had descended on the ground, Smith reached his century with a sublime pulled four off a short ball from Stokes and danced a jig in celebration.
England's hopes of another breakthrough were thwarted by a 59-run partnership between Smith and the obdurate Johnson, the bowling hero of the first two tests.
"It's probably about even," said Smith. "The wicket's pretty good, hopefully we can cash in in the morning get 400, 450 and really be able to set the game up from there."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)