England struggle against openers

Ricky Ponting and Simon Katich laid down an unambiguous marker as Australia showed England's top-order a batting masterclass.

Ricky Ponting, left, expertly executes the sweep shot off Monty Panesar during his chanceless hundred in Cardiff. The Australia captain passed the 11,000 Test-run mark during the course of his knock.
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Ricky Ponting and Simon Katich, two of only three players in the tourists' line up who have played an Ashes Test in England, laid down an unambiguous marker as Australia showed England's profligate top-order how Test batting should be done. The tourists now have a first innings lead clearly in their sights after they reached 249 for one by the close last night, 186 behind, with their two veteran batsmen sharing a princely stand of 189.

They both posted centuries as England's bowling attack, vaunted as the most balanced they have fielded in years, toiled toothlessly. To deem this series vengeance for their series loss four years ago would be pushing it. Australia have already had their revenge in the most crushing terms, when they whitewashed their age-old rivals on home soil a year and a half ago. However, there is little doubt Ponting is still fuelled by what went on in 2005. He waged a proud battle then, and still deems the century he scored in the draw at Old Trafford back then as his best ever knock.

This time, he was chaperoned to the crease by a chorus of boos from the Cardiff crowd, hardly a fitting welcome for a player who was just about to pass 11,000 Test match runs. When he was afforded a charitable round of applause on reaching 50, it was striking that he pointed his bat towards the dressing room, and excluded anyone else from his celebrating. All seemed to be forgotten by the time he reached three figures, for the 38th time in Tests, which he brought about by way of a brisk single patted down on the off-side.

Katich was watchful throughout. The 33-year-old left-hander arrived in England earlier in the summer with much to do to convince the home supporters of his merit. His last Ashes trip memorable mainly for a tantrum in the pivotal Trent Bridge Test match, as well as a string of low scores. However, with Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden having vacated the top of the order, Katich has since reinvented himself as an opener, with rich returns.

His experience at the top of the order is likely be vital in such a high-pressure series, especially when set against the rawness of his opening partner, Phillip Hughes. Hughes evoked memories of Michael Slater, the excitable former Australia opener, such was the nervous energy he brought top his first Ashes innings. He raced to 36 with a flurry of idiosyncratic carves through the off-side, then fell. Meanwhile, Katich carried on serenely.

He passed his previous career best against England of 67 when he helped himself to four from a full toss by Graeme Swann. His ton arrived following a hook down to the fine leg fence. Their stand took the wind out England's sails, after they started the day the brighter with their tail making merry in docile conditions. An Ashes series has never really started until the phoney war begins, and Nathan Hauritz, Australia's unproven off-spinner, may be the first beneficiary of English kidology.

Despite occasional assistance from the pitch, Hauritz generally displayed all the cutting edge of wet tissue paper during England's innings. He did bag the wicket of the home side's leading man, Kevin Pietersen, due in part to clever thinking on his behalf, but more because of the muddled thought pattern of the batsman. It brought a glowing eulogy from Pietersen. "Hauritz probably outfoxed me," he said. "He is a clever bowler, he knows what he is doing."

Such an utterance had the dual effect of shifting some of the responsibility from him, but also made the doubters sit up and think, "perhaps we had this bowler tagged wrongly after all". When Hauritz then picked up two additional wickets yesterday morning - at a fair cost, after Swann tucked in - his place in the side was all but signed-off. Now, played properly, he should be a fruitful source of runs during the remainder of the series for England.

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