PERTH, December 16- Australia face an uphill battle to regain the Ashes after another top order collapse on the first day of the crucial third Test at the WACA in Perth on Thursday.
England, who will retain the Ashes with victory in the match, won an important toss and reduced the hosts to 69-5 after sending them in to bat on a greenish pitch, before Australia’s tail wagged to take them to a modestly competitive total of 268.
In reply, England’s openers edged safely to 29-0 at stumps, with Alastair Cook on 17 and Andrew Strauss on 12, leaving the tourists well-placed to build a commanding first innings lead on the back of their earlier good bowling and brilliant fielding.
Recalled opener Phil Hughes (2), embattled skipper Ricky Ponting (12), struggling deputy Michael Clarke (4) and new No.6 Steven Smith (7) were among the casualties as Australia’s top order produced its second first innings collapse in as many Tests.
Veteran Mike Hussey again led the fightback with 61, before Brad Haddin (53), Mitchell Johnson (62) and Peter Siddle (35 not out) added some much-needed respectability to the score with some enterprising stroke play.
England lead the five-Test series 1-0 after their second Test win by an innings in Adelaide and victory in Perth will guarantee they retain the Ashes, after wresting the urn off Australia in England last year.
Hughes lasted just six balls on his return to the Test arena, clean bowled by recalled paceman Chris Tremlett, who bowled well to claim 3-63.
A stunning one-handed catch from Paul Collingwood off the bowling of James Anderson (3-61) had Ponting’s woes deepening as he headed back to the pavilion.
With the hosts limping at 28-2, vice-captain Clarke was next to go, caught behind by wicketkeeper Matt Prior off Tremlett, before Shane Watson was trapped lbw by Steve Finn for 13 as Australia slumped to 36-4, having also been 2-3 in Adelaide.
Hussey made 61 and put on 68 with Haddin before he was given out caught behind on a referral in spinner Graeme Swann’s second over, after umpire Billy Doctrove had initially turned down the appeal.
At that stage the hosts were 137-6, but the English quicks fell into the trap of bowling too short late in the innings and let the Australian lower order batsmen off the hook.