In reply to the home team's first innings total of 385, the tourists were 180 for four at stumps on the second day, with Ian Bell on nine (from 62 balls) and Ben Stokes on 14, still trailing by 205 runs. Australia leads the series 2-0 after wins in Brisbane and Adelaide, and can regain the Ashes with a win in Perth.
Although in-form pacemen Mitchell Johnson went wicketless despite generating express pace, all of the other Australian bowlers used took a wicket each as several English batsmen failed to build on promising starts and the effectiveness of the controversial Decision Review System was again called into question.
The home team struck two key blows in the final session of the day, removing England captain Alastair Cook (72) and dangerous batsman Kevin Pietersen (19) in quick succession. England were progressing steadily, if slowly, at 136-2, with Cook, who was dropped on three, grinding his way back into form. However, the left-hander then inexplicably cut a Nathan Lyon delivery straight to Dave Warner at backward point for a soft dismissal. It was almost identical to the way Warner fell to Graeme Swann in the Australian first innings.
Pietersen was showing unusual caution at the crease and it took him 49 balls to reach double figures. However, Australian quick Peter Siddle continued his dominance over the tall right-hander when he lured him into an ugly pull shot that was well caught by Mitchell Johnson at mid-on. It was the 10th time Siddle had claimed Pietersen's wicket in Test cricket, having also dismissed him twice in Adelaide in the second Test.
England got off to a solid start through openers Michael Carberry (43) and Cook, the pair riding their luck a little as they built their partnership. They blunted the pace of Johnson, who bowled the three quickest deliveries of the match in succession in one over, and closed in on England's first century opening partnership in 12 Tests. Just as that milestone loomed, Ryan Harris achieved the initial breakthrough, when Carberry dragged a ball back onto his stumps as he attempted to withdraw the bat with England on 85.
The tourists were soon forced to deal with worse when Joe Root was adjudged caught behind from the bowling of Shane Watson just six runs later and was out for just four runs in the latest DRS controversy. Root was adamant he hadn't snicked the delivery and immediately challenged the decision, but third umpire Tony Hill ruled the replays were inconclusive and umpire Marais Erasmus's initial verdict stood. Hot spot did not show any contact between bat and ball, and neither did the video footage. However, there was a faint noise as the ball passed the bat, but it may have been Root hitting his pad, as appeared to be evidenced on hot spot.
Australia resumed at 326-6 and the day started well for England, with Stuart Broad (3-100) claiming the wicket of Johnson, who had not added to his overnight score of 39, with the second ball of the day. Steve Smith then fell for 111, the victim of a DRS challenge by the English after getting an inside edge through to wicketkeeper Matt Prior from a Jimmy Anderson delivery. Erasmus initially gave him not out, but the decision was overturned by Hill. It was Smith's second Test century, and first on home soil.