ENGLAND bowling coach David Saker admitted the attack that let Australia off the hook on day one in Perth may have been the wrong combination.
Australia batted poorly in the early stages of the third Test and were 143-5 after a series of rash shots.
By that stage England were on top, even if it was Australian errors that had handed them the initiative.
But from a position where they should have hammered home their dominance, England – two-nil behind in the five-match series – let the home side recover to reach 326-6 at the close.
Steve Smith made a fine unbeaten century, his second in Tests, Brad Haddin weighed in with a fifty and Mitchell Johnson, scourge of England’s batsmen, was taking the assault to the beleaguered bowlers in the closing overs.
In searing heat, England bowled too short and found their deliveries carted to the boundary all too often by Australia’s batsmen.
England went with the experience of Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Graeme Swann and Yorkshire’s Tim Bresnan as a frontline attack, with all-rounder Ben Stokes weighing in with Haddin’s wicket.
Anderson and Bresnan – playing his first match in the series after recovering from a stress fracture of the back – toiled through 38 overs between them without reward, although Anderson ran out Chris Rogers early on.
There had been talk of a wild-card selection in the attack, but Chris Tremlett, Steven Finn and Boyd Rankin sat it out.
“We assess that all the time and try to make sure we get selection right,” Saker said. “Like everything, we make mistakes, like cricketers make mistakes.
“We could have made a mistake this game but I’m sure if our bowlers bowled to their capabilities we wouldn’t have got it wrong.
“We picked the side we thought would get 20 wickets and I still think we can.
“We had a disappointing day but I’m sure we’ll bounce back.”
Saker, who is Australian, has had his feet planted in the England camp for the last three-and-a-half years and expected better from the bowlers.
“We pride ourselves on being able to restrict teams from scoring, we put pressure on teams very well, and we found it hard today,” he sadded.
“At five for 130 we had a chance there but we let it slip and we weren’t as good as we have been.
“We didn’t bowl the areas we would have liked but we had a chance to put some really good pressure on and we didn’t take that. To be fair we probably bowled a little too short.
“We probably got a bit excited but that’s not good enough.”
Smith (103 not out) tucked into England’s frazzled seamers as they dropped ever shorter in search of wickets to try to accelerate a contest they know they have to win to retain any chance of a fourth consecutive Ashes series success.
He completed his first Test hundred on home soil, after sharing a century stand with Haddin (55) and then combining with Johnson to add another 59 as England’s toiling attack flagged.
There was no certainty that the upshot was an above-par total for the hosts on a typically quick pitch at this venue - but after England’s fine start, Saker did not try to put a positive gloss on events.
“There’s no doubt we let it slip –and probably not for the first time this series,” he said.
“We had them on the ropes and we didn’t finish the job. It’s partly down to the way they played with the bat ... (but) we didn’t deliver what we should have delivered.”
Rogers clipped Stuart Broad off his legs for the first four of the match, and next ball glanced fine for another to set the frenetic tempo.
That was as good as it got for him, because an attempted sharp single next ball did not account for the athleticism of Anderson.
Rogers’s dive was in vain, after Anderson moved quickly to his left and transferred to his right hand for a direct hit at the non-striker’s end.
It was a bonus wicket, and so too was that of Shane Watson – who tried to drive the previously expensive Broad but instead speared an edge high to Swann at second slip.
Captain Michael Clarke soon appeared in ominous form but left many of the big shots to David Warner.
The introduction of Swann, however, for one over before lunch brought England the wicket they craved most.
Trying to milk a single into the leg side, Clarke chipped low to the off-spinner’s standard man at short midwicket.
Alastair Cook was the catcher, winning the first exchange between the two captains in their 100th Test.
Warner completed his 57-ball 50 soon after lunch, and Smith got off the mark from the 16th delivery he faced when he was up the wicket to deposit Swann into the Lillee Marsh Stand for six.
But a lame shot from Warner presented Michael Carberry with an unmissable catch at point off Swann, and then Cook’s decision to immediately replace the off-spinner with Broad paid off when George Bailey ducked two bouncers but took on a third and holed out to a tumbling Kevin Pietersen at deep square leg.