Australia wrested control of the third test back from England for the second day in a row on Saturday, reducing the tourists to 180 for four at the close of play and taking another step towards reclaiming the Ashes.
Ian Bell, who had made nine not out, and Ben Stokes, unbeaten on 14, will resume on day three on Sunday with England trailing Australia’s first innings tally of 385 by 205 runs.
The tourists need at least a draw to keep the series alive and had built a solid platform when Alastair Cook and Michael Carberry put together the highest opening partnership in eight tests against Australia this year.
Australia’s bowlers, though, are charged with confidence after dominating the English batsmen in the first two tests in Brisbane and Adelaide and defied energy-sapping temperatures in excess of 40 degrees Celsius to strike back.
Carberry and Joe Root, controversially, fell in the half an hour before tea and Cook and Kevin Pietersen were dismissed in the final session – all without the standout bowler of the first two tests, Mitchell Johnson, taking a single wicket.
“Other bowlers are getting vital wickets at vital times,” Australia bowling coach Craig McDermott told reporters.
“Everyone’s chipping in, bowling tightly, bowling good lines and more importantly swinging the old ball.
“We’ve got 12 overs until the new ball tomorrow, so a wicket early would be ideal and we can get stuck into them with the new ball.”
England dealt with the first new ball reasonably well but Carberry had already survived a couple of scares when he played on a Ryan Harris delivery from around the wicket for 43 half an hour before tea with 85 runs on the board.
The tourists would probably have been happy to get to tea with just one wicket down only for Root to follow Carberry to the dressing room for four some 20 minutes later.
Shane Watson’s delivery beat his bat and umpire Marais Erasmus raised his finger in the midst of a frenzied appeal from the Australians, who thought they had heard a nick.
Root immediately sought a review but departed shaking his head as the TV umpire and the battery of technology available to him did not find sufficient evidence to overturn the decision.
“It was obviously a disappointing dismissal for us, and a key dismissal for us,” said Carberry.
“He obviously felt he didn’t hit the ball, so he reviewed it. Obviously we’re bitterly disappointed.”
Cook dug in with a circumspect Pietersen, though, and they successfully weathered a difficult period after tea when the “Freo Doctor” sea breeze enabled the Australian pacemen to get some movement from the ball.
The England captain cut a short Peter Siddle delivery for his sixth four to reach his half century and looked set for his first big score of the series.
But just when the pair looked they might be ready to start attacking the bowlers, Cook’s counterpart Michael Clarke brought on spinner Nathan Lyon and was immediately rewarded with the most prized England wicket.
When Lyon’s fourth ball took a bit of bounce off the wicket, Cook failed to properly execute his cut shot and the ball flew into the safe hands of David Warner at point.
With his captain gone for 72, Pietersen seemed to lose interest in the conservative gameplan and, after becoming the fifth England player to score 8,000 test runs, fell victim to Siddle for the 10th time in his career.
Attempting to punish a short ball from the Victorian, Pietersen did not really get hold of his shot and Johnson leaped to take a superb catch at mid on and send him packing for 19.
“I just thought it was fantastic piece of athleticism really, great catch and a really important wicket for us,” McDermott added.
“The two wickets in that last session were very crucial to our day. And the last three hours of bowling and fielding were superb.”
Johnson’s was the first wicket to fall in a day which started when England removed the last four Australian batsmen at a cost of an additional 59 runs to their overnight tally of 326.
The England attack, though, will rue not driving home their advantage when they had Australia floundering at 143-5 on the opening day of the match.
“Ideally we’d have liked to have lost a few less wickets,” Carberry added.
“But having said that Australia, credit to them, bowled very well.
“We’re still in the hunt. We’re 200 behind so we have to get through the new ball tomorrow and get up near the Australians’ total.”