Michael Clarke is destined to follow Ricky Ponting as captain of Australia and he took the lead of the current skipper on the third day in Cardiff to guide the visitors ahead by 44 runs. Clarke and Marcus North added 143 for the fifth wicket after England had threatened a fightback during the morning session, but any hope the home side had of remaining on level terms was remorselessly pounded into the Welsh dust.
Clarke appeared set to become the third century-maker of the innings before gloving a pull off Stuart Broad, during the first period of Test cricket in England and Wales played under floodlights, after the players returned following a two-hour rain break. More wet weather is forecast for Saturday and could yet have a major say in the route and outcome of this match. However, the more time that is lost means makes Australia the only side that can take a positive result from this opening encounter.
Ponting and Katich carried their second-wicket partnership to 239 before Katich fell for 122 and when Ponting dragged Monty Panesar into his stumps for 150 Australia were still more than 100 behind. England harboured hopes of first-innings parity, but they couldn't break through during the afternoon session as the attack laboured on a surface that made the five-man unit appear unthreatening.
Clarke is Ponting's heir apparent in so many ways and his innings bore many similarities with that of his captain. There was a swiftness of footwork against the spinners and conviction of strokeplay especially with his driving. He lofted Panesar straight over long-off for six and brought up his half century from 100 balls when he drove the Graeme Swann past mid-off before repeating the dose from the next delivery.
North settled into his first Ashes innings and the talk of his uncertain early-tour form now seems a long time ago. Buoyed by the 191 he made against England Lions last week he watchfully negotiated the early part of his stay before expanding his range. He slog-swept the spinners through and over the leg side and when they tried to go wider outside off he cut through the covers.
The number of scores of 150 or more for Ricky Ponting in Tests, which puts him in fifth place. Brian Lara leads the way with 19 such scores.
Number of centuries Ponting has scored against England when leading the team. Among Australians, only Allan Border (5) and Don Bradman (10) have scored more hundreds as captains.
The number of runs added by Ponting and Katich. It's Australia's fourth-highest for the second wicket in Tests in England.
Michael Clarke's average in overseas Tests. At home he averages 58.70.
The number of times in England that Australia's fifth wicket has added more than the 143 that Michael Clarke and Marcus North put together.
Clarke took Australia into the lead with a meaty pull off Flintoff and North reached his half-century from 107 balls. Apart from when the ball was new England's attack posed little threat with Broad leaking runs at more than four-an-over and the spinners unable to build sustained pressure. At least Broad's mood brighten in the evening gloom when he enticed Clarke into a pull that brushed the glove, two overs before the players were off again, but it was another concerning day of hard toil for the home attack.
There were nine overs until the second new ball when play began and if Andrew Strauss was in any doubt whether to take it his mind was soon made up as Panesar and Swann leaked boundaries. Ponting's swift footwork created scoring opportunities against Panesar who had a tendency to bowl too short, while Swann continued to pitch too full with two full tosses racing to the boundary.
The harder ball immediately provided more of a threat although it also raced off the bat as Ponting drove supremely through cover. Finally, after 70 overs, England found a way through as Anderson speared in a yorker at Katich and most importantly for the bowler the ball swung late to end a superb display of concentration and application.
The intensity lifted as Flintoff steamed in and struck Michael Hussey on the helmet, while Anderson was now moving the ball in both directions. Anderson's second scalp came with another full delivery which lured Hussey into a flat-footed drive and Matt Prior took a low catch. England now had the advantage of bowling at two right-handers and Anderson gave Clarke's technique an early probing, but unlike the 2005 version he withstood the test impressively.
Ponting was continuing along his classy path, only occasionally being discomforted by Anderson's late swing and a beauty from Flintoff that beat the outside edge, although he did top-edge a six over Panesar at long-leg as went to 150 from 221 deliveries.
With the ball still hard Panesar was recalled for another spell and the move paid off handsomely when Ponting got a bottom edge into the stumps. He had played so solidly that it was almost a shock to see him walking back, but it was far from the end of England's problems.