Steve Smith proved the batsman for a crisis yet again, pushing Australia to 4-165 and reducing England's lead to 137 runs at stumps on day two of an enthralling Ashes opener in Brisbane.

Smith contentedly tucked into his lunch after a flurry of bouncers, some Nathan Lyon magic and a collapse of 6-56 finished Friday's morning session and England's first innings.

However, England's total of 302 suddenly became mightily imposing as Australia crashed to 4-76 in response.

For the umpteenth time in his stellar career, Smith stood up when so many teammates were knocked over.

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The skipper was 64 not out at stumps, his fightback having been well supported by recalled veteran Shaun Marsh.

Smith and Marsh, who will resume on 44, have shared an unbeaten 89-run stand.

Marsh entered the fray under immense pressure after being preferred ahead of Glenn Maxwell in his eighth test recall.

Marsh tweaked his back on test eve then dropped a catch on day two, while Maxwell posted an unbeaten Sheffield Shield double-ton on Friday in Sydney.

There was nothing pretty about the game-changing partnership early on, when Smith's counterpart Joe Root set aggressive fields and his bowlers delivered superb spells.

Australia managed just 10 runs from the first 11 overs after tea, while Smith waited until his 90th delivery before scoring runs through the off side.

Smith loves to score freely but the classy right-hander recognised the value of survival in the all-important first chapter of the five-test series.

"This is why he's one of the best players in the world ... he's doing it very well. He knows his team needs him," Shane Warne said on the Nine Network.

Smith was summoned to the middle after only 10.3 overs following the cheap dismissals of Cameron Bancroft (5) and Usman Khawaja (11), while David Warner was on 26 when he chipped an unthreatening ball from Jake Ball to short mid-wicket.

The world's top-ranked batsman and Marsh, who was on six off 36 balls at one stage, slowly but surely started to play their shots and halt the momentum England had built by taking four wickets in 24.5 overs.