Australians take control in Cardiff


England again struggled to find a successful bowling strategy after their attack failed to halt Australia's progress towards a crucial lead.

England again struggled to find a successful bowling strategy after their attack failed to halt Australia's progress towards a crucial lead in the opening Ashes Test.

Having been unable to make much of an impact on Australia's top order during a one-sided second day in Cardiff, England knew they would have to make a big improvement if they were to remain competitive in the npower series.

It was an objective they achieved during the third morning with James Anderson utilising the increased swing with the second new ball to dismiss Simon Katich and Michael Hussey while left-arm spinner Monty Panesar claimed the scalp of Australian captain Ricky Ponting.

But after losing three wickets in 63 balls, Australia underlined the impotency which has plagued England for the last year with Michael Clarke and Marcus North forging a 143-run stand which was only broken after a two-hour break for afternoon showers.

Even then it took unfamiliar conditions to end their stand with Clarke falling for 83 after Cardiff became the first ground in Britain to use floodlights for a Test following an agreement they could be used between the two captains before the series began.

That late wicket, which fell just two overs before the limitations of the lights were exposed with play ending for bad light, still left Australia 44 runs ahead on 479 for five.

Australia's strong position also underlined England's continued failure to claim the 20 wickets required to win a Test having only achieved that objective three times – twice in the recent home series against West Indies – in the last 12 Tests.

Resuming the third morning still trailing by 186 runs on 249 for one with overnight batsmen Ponting and Katich unbeaten on centuries, Australia progressed comfortably until England took the new ball in the ninth over of the day.

Straight away they posed a greater threat with Ponting giving them encouragement by twice driving close to gully before Anderson swung a full-length delivery into Katich's front pad to end Australia's productive 239-run second-wicket stand.

Katich's 122 had not been as fluent as Ponting's innings, but had proved crucial in establishing Australia's dominance which was undermined further six overs later when Hussey attempted to drive Anderson outside off-stump and edged behind.

Lancashire seamer Anderson had claimed two wickets in 14 balls to leave Australia under pressure for the first time since their innings began a day earlier, although Ponting remained composed and reached his 150 as lunch approached.

But for nearly the first time in his innings spanning over five hours at the crease, Ponting finally mis-timed an attempted shot when he rocked back to cut a short delivery from Panesar and got a bottom edge onto his stumps.

For the first time since the start of their innings Australia had two new batsmen at the crease and were still 104 runs from parity and England sensed their chance of launching a fightback.

Instead of delivering hostile spells at the new pair immediately after lunch, England captain Andrew Strauss surprisingly relied on an out-of-touch Stuart Broad and spin pair Panesar and Graeme Swann to little effect.

Anderson, the pick of England's attack before lunch, returned to the dressing room for nearly half an hour only a few overs after the interval – to "top up his fluids" according to a team spokesman – and was not used again until the 19th over of the session.

Strauss' reluctance to use all-rounder Flintoff, easily England's most hostile bowler, was even more bewildering and he was not brought on until the 27th over of the middle session having been out of the attack for 32 consecutive overs.

Without having to combat the hostility that pair would have provided, both Australian batsmen were able to progress serenely towards half-centuries with Clarke bringing up his milestone with successive fours off Swann.

North, playing in his first Ashes series, also reached the landmark shortly before tea to lay the foundations for Australia to establish a major lead in the final session with England seemingly running out of ideas to make the breakthrough.

England were fortunate that only three overs into that last session an unscheduled shower halted play for a further two hours, enough time to allow them to regroup and ensure both batsmen needed to set themselves at the crease again once play restarted.

Despite utilising the lights at Sophia Gardens, the light was not as good as it should have been – particularly with a red ball – although it did not contribute to Clarke mis-timing an attempting pull off Broad and gloving the ball behind five overs after the restart.

It was a timely breakthrough for England, not least because play was brought to a halt by the inferior light two overs later, but failed to overshadow their limitations as a bowling unit or another dominant performance by Australia's batsmen.