England stumble after Australia onslaught
England 435 and 20 for 2 (Strauss 6*, Pietersen 3*) trail Australia 674 for 6 (Ponting 150, North 125*, Katich 122, Haddin 121) by 219 runs
Live scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Australia are scenting victory in the opening Ashes Test as England stumbled to 20 for 2 in the face of a daunting total on the fourth day at Cardiff. Mitchell Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus both struck early after Marcus North and Brad Haddin, who added 200 for the sixth wicket, completed a crushing batting performance with Australia registering four hundreds in an Ashes innings for the first time as they finally closed on a massive 674 for 6.
After England's bowlers toiled through 181 overs for six wickets the Australians made two breakthroughs inside seven overs when Ricky Ponting declared with 45 minutes of the afternoon session remaining and a 239-run lead in the bag. Alastair Cook played round a straight ball from Johnson and Ravi Bopara was given out leg-before to Hilfenhaus, although he could probably feel slightly aggrieved as the ball looked high.
There would also have been a huge shout against Andrew Strauss had it not been for a no-ball from Hilfenhaus and both Strauss and Kevin Pietersen couldn't get to the dressing room quick enough. The weather closed in as tea arrived, but such were the strides made by Australia during the shortened day that they still have plenty of time to force a series lead.
Although the fast bowlers have done early damage this match could still bring a glorious twist with Nathan Hauritz, so derided before the game, having a potentially crucial role to play. England's spinners returned the combined figures of 1 for 246 from 73 overs and Hauritz has been the pick of the slow bowlers on show.
After the dire forecasts, the rain held off for two sessions and instead the deluge of runs continued. North reached his hundred before lunch off 206 balls - the second of an young three-match career - while Haddin needed 138 deliveries, and 48 to go from 50 to 100, as he produced a fine impression of Adam Gilchrist by tearing into the bowling. In 15 overs after lunch Australia smashed 97 runs with Haddin responsible for 71 of them.
The daunting total of 674 for 6 was Australia's fourth highest against England and sixth best overall, while five England bowlers conceded centuries for just the second time following the 1973 Test against West Indies at Lord's.
From the start this was a disporting day for England and the early-series optimism has rapidly vanished. Australia's lead was 44 at the start of play and could have been limited to manageable levels, but the home side were well off the pace throughout. The early fielding was sloppy as Paul Collingwood let one through his legs at cover, Pietersen almost hurled four overthrows past the wicketkeeper and James Anderson didn't position himself behind the stumps for a run out opportunity. The pace attack again looked impotent although the spinners found more turn, but with England now in match-saving mode that won't necessarily have pleased the home dressing room.
Neither North or Haddin were in a particular hurry and they were content to wait for the loose deliveries to put away. Haddin glanced Broad's first ball of the day to fine leg and later drove Andrew Flintoff imperiously through the covers although could have been caught short on 19 if England's fielding had been sharper.
Strauss eventually turned to his spinners and Graeme Swann caused more problems than at any previous stage in the game. Bowling a more attacking line outside off, he troubled Haddin and almost had him caught at short leg but the edge went safely out of reach. Hauritz and Australia's part-time spinners will have watched with interest.
Shortly before lunch the third new-ball was taken, but that only served to increase Australia's tempo when Haddin gave himself room to carve Flintoff over backward point. The aggression continued after the break as Haddin took three consecutive boundaries off Anderson, pulled Swann for six over square leg and effortlessly drove Panesar for six more over long-on.
England's bowlers were powerless to stop the onslaught. When Haddin finally picked out deep midwicket Ponting decided it was time let his bowlers loose and the early exchanges showed they mean business. With a full day, Australia will fancy their chances.
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo