CANTERBURY - Where Mitchell Johnson signalled his intent to again dent England with spells of speed and venom on a Canterbury pitch that offered him little help, neither Shane Watson nor Mitchell Marsh were able to push ahead as the allrounder most likely to take a pivotal place in Australia's first Test XI.

After Steven Smith surged ominously to his first - and surely not last - century of this tour, Watson and Marsh both had the opportunity to make a substantial score against tired bowlers and on a blameless pitch. Each had their moments, but tallies of 21 and 30 were of the unconvincing kind - not least because Australia's tail-enders have been bettering those starts with increasing regularity.

The two dismissals were characteristic. Watson lathered a short ball square of the wicket but close enough to Joe Denly for him to dive brilliantly and pluck the catch, leaving the 34-year-old to wander off with the pained look of a latter-day King Lear. Marsh looked balanced and powerful during his stay, but grew overconfident enough to swish across the line at Matt Hunn and lose his off stump.

Such errors of judgment continue to frustrate the coach Darren Lehmann, who has made a virtue of mistakes being fine so long as they are not repeated. Nevertheless he is wedded to the concept of choosing an allrounder as the team's fifth bowler, and further dead heats will likely mean that Watson keeps his place for Cardiff.

Johnson took the new ball alongside Ryan Harris, and immediately set about staking his claim for one of three pace bowling places in the first Investec Test. In a swift first over he accounted for the promising opener Daniel Bell-Drummond, first pushing him back onto the stumps then pinning him lbw with a full delivery that swung back just enough to have Nigel Llong raising his finger.

At the other end Harris landed his first ball on the postage stamp around off stump, but still looked to be finding the zip of his very best work. Lehmann has stated that Harris still looks "short of a gallop", and needs some more overs before being ready for Test duty, and that looked the case here. Peter Siddle replaced him at the Pavilion End, bowling sturdily and eventually coaxing an edge from Denly after a pesky stand with Rob Key.

It is 13 years since Key appeared down under as a plucky middle-order batsman who did rather better than a series average of 17 would suggest, and he worked diligently to provide some sort of resistance against Australia's attack. Fawad Ahmed flighted the odd delivery teasingly but was also taken for runs, and it was something of a surprise when Key, on 87, swatted the legspinner to midwicket.

Key's exit was the signal for a renewed burst of pace from Johnson, as Sam Northeast then Ben Harmisonwere undone by his speed and direction. Northeast edged behind while trying to leave a lifter, and Harmison was beaten for pace and movement to be comprehensively bowled.

That left Sam Billings and Adam Ball to hold on until the close, thwarting the efforts of Mitchell Marsh to add a wicket to his earlier batting cameo. Watson was curiously unused as a bowler, leaving open the question of where he now sits in the scheme of things.

Scoreboard

AUSTRALIA 1ST INNINGS:

(OVERNIGHT: 348-3)

C Rogers lbw b Hunn 84

S Marsh c Bell-Drummond b Hunn 114

S Smith retired 111

M Clarke c Billings b Hunn 56

S Watson c Denly b Hunn 21

M Marsh b Hunn 30

B Haddin not out 22

M Johnson not out 24

EXTRAS: (lb10, w2, nb3) 15

TOTAL: (6 wkts, 120 overs) 477

FOW: 1-181, 2-242, 3-337, 4-398, 5-419, 6-438

BOWLING: Thomas 26-2-104-0; Claydon 29-6-111-0; Hunn 27-3-99-5; Ball 14-0-63-0; Riley 24-3-90-0.

KENT 1ST INNINGS:

D Bell-Drummond lbw b Johnson 0

J Denly c Haddin b Siddle 36

R Key c S Marsh b Ahmed 87

S Northeast c Haddin b Johnson 25

B Harmison b Johnson 5

S Billings not out 24

A Ball not out 21

EXTRAS: (lb1, nb4) 5

TOTAL: (5 wkts, 53 overs) 203

FOW: 1-0, 2-81, 3-140, 4-152, 5-168

BOWLING: Johnson 13-3-42-3; Harris 11-0-39-0; Siddle 11-2-32-1; Ahmed 11-1-59-1; M Marsh 6-1-29-0 (1nb); Smith 1-0-1-0

TOSS: Kent

UMPIRES: Ben Debenham, Nigel Llong