Johnson's fiery burst puts Australians back in Ashes

The battle for the Ashes intensified on a day of vicious swing, and even more hot air, at the WACA.

Mitchell Johnson's spell of four wickets for seven runs and eventual figures of 6-38 were in no way flattering as he near single-handedly undermined England's pretensions to retaining the urn before Christmas.

The recalled left-armer produced a series of searing inswingers to tilt a seesaw third Test in Australia's favour, bowling England out for only 187 and then watching his top-order team-mates reach 119-3 and a lead of 200 by stumps on day two.

Yet it was not just the ball that was talking, one minor spat following another as England faltered after an opening stand of 78 – losing all 10 wickets for just 109 runs.

Amid the chaos, Ian Bell (53) stood impressively firm – adding his fourth successive Test half-century to captain Andrew Strauss's 52.

Bell later questioned Johnson's version of events, that Australia have rediscovered a confrontational mentality which allows them to play at their best.

Johnson was coy about his exchange with Kevin Pietersen, whom he saw off for a third-ball duck with one of his best deliveries. "I did say something to him... but I can't give that information out," he said.

Broadcast audio suggested Pietersen had mischievously, and slightly bizarrely, asked Johnson for his phone number.

The fast bowler added: "I don't think he was being friendly; I think he was being a bit of a smart arse.

"I was pretty happy to get his wicket today – and I didn't give him my phone number, that's for sure."

Johnson was not surprised by Pietersen's repartee, having already identified him as one of England's main verbal agitators – if not the wittiest.

"Pietersen's a bit like that," he said.

"Whether it's joking around or being cheeky or whatever, he does definitely get under some blokes' skins more than others.

"But I'm sure I get under a lot of their blokes' skins."

Asked where Pietersen and others rank in the quality rather than quantity of their sledging, Johnson nominated off-spinner Graeme Swann as the pick of England's 'wordsmiths'.

"I think the better one out of all of them is Swann," he said.

"He's a bit more clever... I'll leave it at that."

After Shane Watson (61no) had helped Australia consolidate their first-innings advantage, Johnson was sure about one thing – that a little bit of extra edge on the pitch plays into his team's hands. "When we've got that bit of fire about us, we do play very well," he said.

"That's what we've tried to do here – get really involved in the match, but not overstep the line.

"If we can get right up in their faces a bit more – you pick certain blokes out – it definitely works for us. I think we did that very well today.

"I don't mind getting in a little bit of a confrontation, as long as it isn't over-stepping."

Bell spent 90 balls and more than two hours in the thick of the action, but appeared largely oblivious to a clutch of incidents – ranging from the Johnson-Pietersen show to Matt Prior's exchange with his opponents after unluckily fending a short ball from Peter Siddle down on to the base of his leg-stump.

"I didn't even realise it was all kicking off like that," said Bell.

"We thought there was a bit of banter going on, but I didn't realise Johnson was quite in our faces as he probably thinks he was."

In any case, Bell sees it all as par for the course when the urn is at stake and England are threatening to win it on Australian soil for the first time since 1986-87.

"It's an Ashes Test match – both teams are desperate to win," he said. "We know what our record is like at the WACA, very poor – we're desperate to make a bit of history here.

"I thought the two umpires did a great job, and nothing spilled over at all. It's aggressive Ashes cricket, which is what everyone wants to see. I guess a few things were going on, but it didn't feel any different to me to what it has done in the last two Test matches."

Regardless of the words exchanged, Bell was generous enough to praise Johnson for his wonderful bowling.

"Credit to Mitchell Johnson and Australia – they came back hard, which we knew they would at some point in this series," he said.

"He had that control, swung the ball and went at two-an-over. That's very good bowling at the highest level."

England know, though, that the true test for their opponents – and the inconsistent Johnson in particular – is to repeat the dose.

"It's just one innings of bowling. He's got to back it up second innings," added Bell.

"We concentrate on what we need to do, and they can concentrate on what they need to do.

"It's disappointing looking back now that we haven't batted as well as we could have done today.

"But we knew it was going to happen (at some point). In a five-Test series, you're going to have bad days – and today was a bad day for us."

Australia did not have it all their own way when they batted again, losing opener Phil Hughes and captain Ricky Ponting cheaply to Steven Finn to leave them at 34-2.

Vice-captain Michael Clarke was next to go as he chopped a delivery from Chris Tremlett onto his stumps with the score at 64 but the hosts suffered no further losses before the close.

Australia v England

Perth: Australia lead by 200 with 7 second inns wkts standing.

Overnight: Australia 268, England 29-0.

Australia First Innings

S R Watson lbw b Finn 13

P J Hughes b Tremlett 2

R T Ponting c Collingwood b Anderson 12

M J Clarke c Prior b Tremlett 4

M E K Hussey c Prior b Swann 61

S P D Smith c Strauss b Tremlett 7

B J Haddin c Swann b Anderson 53

M G Johnson c Anderson b Finn 62

R J Harris b Anderson 3

P M Siddle not out 35

B W Hilfenhaus c Cook b Swann 13

Extras lb3 3

Total (76 overs) 268

Fall: 1-2 2-17 3-28 4-36 5-69 6-137 7-189 8-201 9-233

Bowling O M R W

Anderson 20 3 61 3 Tremlett 23 3 63 3 Finn 15 1 86 2 Collingwood 2 0 3 0 Swann 16 0 52 2

England First Innings

A J Strauss c Haddin b Harris 52

A N Cook c Hussey b Johnson 32

I J L Trott lbw b Johnson 4

K P Pietersen lbw b Johnson 0

P D Collingwood lbw b Johnson 5

I R Bell c Ponting b Harris 53

M J Prior b Siddle 12

G P Swann c Haddin b Harris 11

C T Tremlett b Johnson 2

J M Anderson c Watson b Johnson 0

S T Finn not out 1

Extras b8 lb4 w1 nb2 15

Total (62.3 overs) 187

Fall: 1-78 2-82 3-82 4-94 5-98 6-145 7-181 8-186 9-186

Bowling O M R W

Hilfenhaus 21 6 53 0 Harris 15 4 59 3 Siddle 9 2 25 1 Johnson 17.3 5 38 6

Australia Second Innings

S R Watson not out 61

P J Hughes c Collingwood b Finn 12

R T Ponting c Prior b Finn 1

M J Clarke b Tremlett 20

M E K Hussey not out 24

Extras nb1 1

Total 3 wkts (33 overs) 119

Fall: 1-31 2-34 3-64

To bat: B J Haddin, S P D Smith, M G Johnson, R J Harris, P M Siddle, B W Hilfenhaus.

Bowling O M R W

Anderson 11 5 25 0 Tremlett 9 2 20 1 Finn 9 1 48 2 Swann 4 0 26 0