Katich and Ponting take control with tons
Australia 249 for 1 (Katich 104*, Ponting 100*) trail England 435 (Pietersen 69, Collingwood 64, Prior 56, Johnson 3-87, Hauritz 3-95) by 186 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Australia's bowling has lost its aura in recent times, but the batting order remains a powerful line-up led by one of the greatest to play the game. Ricky Ponting continued his prolific Ashes record with his 38th Test century, passing 11,000 runs in the process, while Simon Katich continued his rebirth as an opener with his first ton against England to lead Australia to an impressive 249 for 1 in reply to the home side's 435 on the second day in Cardiff.
If it was honours even at the end of the opening exchanges, it is now Australia who hold the advantage and will have designs on batting well past England's total to remove the danger of batting last. It was quite a turnaround for the tourists, who were given the run-around during the first session with England adding 99 in 16.5 overs of sparkling batting from the lower order, in particular Graeme Swann.
However, Australia's progress from the moment Ponting and Katich joined forces was methodical, attritional and thoroughly professional as they added 189. It was a lesson to England's batsmen who, despite collectively managing a very respectable total, individually wasted numerous starts. The pitch held few demons for batsmen who were set, which highlighted the value of Australia's two top-order players building on their foundations.
Katich could have departed for 10 when Andrew Flintoff, in the middle of a hostile spell that accounted for Phillip Hughes, couldn't hold a low return chance but Ponting didn't offer a chance in his 155-ball hundred that arrived off the penultimate ball of the day. Katich had brought up his own century moments earlier from 214 balls when he pulled Flintoff to fine leg. He is far removed from the batsman who was bemused by reverse swing in 2005 and it's one of cricket's great comeback stories.
Ponting already has a record that stands up with the legends and became the fourth batsman to pass 11,000 Test runs when he moved to 41, joining Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Allan Border with enough time in his career to finish top of the pile. His hundred also gave him centuries in four Ashes series in England, alongside Don Bradman and Steve Waugh.
And he'll have his mind set on doubling this innings before he's finished on a surface that may yet make the fourth innings a testing proposition. There was turn for Swann and Monty Panesar, especially from the footmarks, but it was slow and the batsmen had time to adjust. Katich often waited on the back foot to clip Panesar with the spin through the leg side, while Ponting cashed in whenever Swann over pitched. Swann sent down six maidens in his first 11 overs, ripped a couple past Katich's outside edge and could have had him leg before on 56, but when he started to force the issue there were more loose deliveries to be picked off.
Andrew Strauss tried various combinations, but found it difficult to build pressure as the batsmen found release through well-run singles and deft placement. James Anderson wasn't at his best while Stuart Broad was forced to leave the field for some treatment on his calf during the final session. As Ravi Bopara found yesterday success against a poor West Indies team needs to be put into context.
It was no surprise that the most hostile pace force was Flintoff, playing his first Test since Antigua in February, and as with his brief innings his first spell rekindled memories of Ashes contests past. He'd been held back from the attack during the half hour Australia batted before lunch and Hughes raced into his innings with a series of crisp off-side boundaries.
There was a plan to target Hughes with the short ball, but both Anderson and Broad offered too much width and allowed Hughes to free his arms. After the interval, though, the challenge went up a few levels as Flintoff was immediately thrown the ball. He began with three rapid bouncers to Hughes from around the wicket, probing the middle-and-leg line that Steve Harmison utilised for England Lions, throwing in a few verbals for good measure, then beat the left-hander with one that cut away off the seam.
It was a marvellous duel between a seasoned campaigner and a young, cocky batsman with Flintoff coming out on top. Switching to over the wicket he cramped Hughes for room as he tried another cut and Matt Prior held a sharp, low chance to his right as Flintoff stood in the middle of the pitch, arms aloft in celebration but it proved England's only moment of joy.
Australia began the day hoping to restrict England to well below 400 and that looked on the cards when Mitchell Johnson removed Broad with the aid of some thigh pad. However, Swann was immediately at his busy, cheeky best and the fifty stand with Anderson came up off 38 balls.
The introduction of Nathan Hauritz brought even greater acceleration as Swann immediately made a statement against his fellow offspinner. He lofted him over wide mid-on then slammed him straight down the ground for another boundary as Peter Siddle lost sight of the ball on the rope. The best of the lot, however, was his impish reverse sweep to complete an over that left the crowd in raptures. By the close, though, the English fans were more subdued and it was the Australians waving their flags.
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo