New day, same old story for hapless tourists at the WACA

On the third day of batting, Steve Smith didn't rise again. Nor did Marsh the son. But others kept their powerful faith, and Australia tumbled onwards towards victory and reclamation of the Ashes. As the day unfolded, the change of names gave no protection to the innocents of England.

This turn of events was always probable. Doubtlessly, there is a stat for how often one day's heroic and unbeaten century-maker adds few or none the next day, indeed falls in the first over. Steve Waugh at the SCG in 2003 is the most famous of many.

It is Test cricket's new day syndrome. No two days are alike, the page always turns. It is what sets the game apart: you always have to come back. Because of this quirk, the opuses of Smith and Marsh were beheld by one crowd and saluted by another.

Overnight, cracks widen, bowlers refresh, batsmen dwell, a wind springs up, the eco-system changes. On Saturday, the ball moved sideways even less than the trans-Nullabor train - which at least rocks a little - not even for Jimmy Anderson.

On Sunday, it did wobble and jag - why now, is anyone's guess - reaping Anderson such rewards that England did not bother to take the second new ball when it fell due, lest it meddle with the delicate balance and bring instead of wickets another outpouring of runs.

Quickly, Anderson had Marsh and Smith lbw, though of Smith's dismissal it must be said that DRS had not fully woken up, either. Smith shook his head ruefully. Great players don't accept being out just because they are out. When Bill Ponsford played on for 437 in a Sheffield Shield game in 1926, he muttered: "Cripes, I'm unlucky."

Tim Paine took up a stance far down the pitch, as parry to Anderson's thrust. The estimable Pat Cummins has a pillbox-like presence at the crease anyway. Together, they stilled the wobble with an eighth-wicket stand of 93.

It ought to be acknowledged that the selectors have touch as profitable as Midas's. They must be in the running for men of the series. Cummins has made 40 in every Test and Paine all but two fifties. Cummins is picked and performs as a bowler, but with a batting average greater than bowling, he conforms to the ideal of genuine all-rounder. Because of him and Paine, the Australian team is like an adolescent, its frame beginning to fill out. But they will face sterner Tests.

Another lbw for Anderson was probably natural justice, but for Stuart Broad there was only the rough type. His 0/142 was his Test worst. So much for the WACA's wares for fast bowlers. You imagine the ground would suit him, but last time it brought him only an injury, and this time added insult. Every time you try to put cricket into a box, it gets out.

At 9-662, Australia declared.

Inside 15 overs, England's back was broken. Mark Stoneman played a weary shot, Alastair Cook a slight but fatal miscue. He is finding series are like days, each with its own character. He looks better than in 2013-14, but stayed in longer then. But his gargantuan series in 2010-11 is like Sunday, too far away.

For wretched Joe Root, though, every day is groundhog. The drive he aimed at Nathan Lyon's first ball finished in the hands of Smith at slip. He stood Joed to the spot, scarcely able to believe.

It had to be Smith, of course. These teams set out a month ago on seemingly equal footing, but a gulf has appeared between them. It is not entirely about local conditions; Australia have prevailed on fast pitches and slow, batting first and second, through the agency of pace and spin, and in the war of words, too. But it is personified in the divergent fates of the captains.

There was a last twist of the knife. James Vince stroked 12 sweet fours in an admirable 55, then was demolished by Mitch Starc's 140kmh off-break. Even for Smith, it would have been easier to play the bagpipes than this. The legend is that the WACA cracks don't ever do as much damage as they threaten, but this one did.

In the end, this day differed from from the preceding in one other way, unlikely in Perth. It rained. The Barmy Army welcomed this raucously - also with a traditional disrobing - since one of their themes is about how we Australians are helplessly subject to their, um, reign. They have a point. As more showers arrived, eventually putting an end the day, perhaps God really was going to save them.

This story New day, same old story for hapless tourists at the WACA first appeared on The Age.