Ponting and Katich take charge
Contrasting hundreds from Ricky Ponting and Simon Katich helped Australia dominate the second day of the opening npower Ashes Test against England in Cardiff.
Ponting hit a fluent 100 not out and Katich an obdurate unbeaten 104, checking the momentum built up by England during a riotous morning session and carrying the tourists to an ominous 249 for one by the close of play
Their unbroken second-wicket alliance, which was worth 189 when the players left the field shortly after 6pm, leaves Australia holding the upper hand despite the fact they still trail England, who made 435, by 186 runs.
If the opening day’s play was notable for Ponting’s negative tactics in the field, today’s events underlined his status as one of the finest batsmen the game has seen.
This was the 38th Test century of his career - only Sachin Tendulkar has scored more - and a marvellous day for the Australia captain was made even better by his becoming only the fourth player in history to score 11,000 Test runs, after Allan Border, Brian Lara and Tendulkar.
Whereas Ponting has now passed three figures eight times against England, Katich’s hundred was his first in the Ashes. He may not have matched Ponting for fluency - few can - but his contribution was no less important to Australia’s hopes of forcing a victory which looked unlikely as Graeme Swann made hay this morning.
England resumed on 336 for seven, keen to keep Australia in the field for the majority of the morning session and extend their overnight score beyond 400.
That they did so within the opening hour’s play was surely beyond their most optimistic predictions, yet it was just reward for a wonderfully aggressive approach with the bat from Swann, in particular.
In a reprise of the Matt Prior and Andrew Flintoff’s entertaining alliance yesterday evening, Swann and James Anderson smashed 68 off just 53 balls for the ninth wicket. Swann’s unbeaten 47 spanned only 40 deliveries, while Anderson contributed a more than handy 26.
Stuart Broad, four not out overnight, set the tone this morning with an immaculate straight drive off Peter Siddle, but he was bowled around his legs for 19 by Mitchell Johnson - with a little assistance from the batsman’s loose trousers.
Swann continued the aggressive approach by hitting Johnson on the up through cover and over midwicket in an over costing 11, and Nathan Hauritz’s introduction into the attack did little to stem the flow of runs.
His first ball spun down the leg side for four byes, and Swann drove him to deep midwicket and then long-on before reverse-sweeping him for a third successive boundary to take England past 400.
The 50 stand arrived moments later - off just 38 balls - and Swann underlined his fine touch by lifting Ben Hilfenhaus casually back over his head before Anderson dragged Hauritz to Mike Hussey at wide mid-on.
Australia managed to check England’s momentum somewhat, and Hauritz’s disappointment at having Swann caught at deep midwicket off a no-ball was tempered when Monty Panesar edged to Ponting at second slip later in the over.
When Australia replied, Hughes’ penchant for making room was obvious from the outset - he scored just three of his 36 runs on the leg side - although he was afforded too much width by the majority of the England seamers.
The exception was Flintoff, who peppered Hughes with bouncers - and a few choice words - in his first over, and found enough movement back into the left-hander to locate his inside edge with the last ball of his fourth. Prior took a smart tumbling catch behind the stumps.
Katich, who offered a fiendishly difficult return catch low to Flintoff's right when he had made 10, accumulated unfussily thereafter, while Ponting unfurled his trademark pull at Anderson’s expense, carrying Australia serenely into three figures with the minimum of fuss.
The landmarks arrived with something approaching regularity thereafter, Ponting going to the 11,000-run mark when he reached 40 and Katich shovelling Swann down the ground to go to a 123-ball fifty containing four further fours.
Ponting followed suit shortly after when he drove Broad past gully - he had faced 70 deliveries - and, though Swann and Panesar got the odd ball to turn sharply out of the bowlers’ footholes, the batsmen were rarely inconvenienced by an England attack which toiled away in front of a subdued crowd.
The majority of the fans in the ground had begun to fear the worst long before the century partnership was completed, and there was precious little encouragement for the England players as Katich and Ponting continued to collect runs with the minimum of fuss.
Katich went to his hundred, off 214 balls and with eight fours, three overs before the close, and Ponting brought up his own century off the penultimate ball of the day with a quick single into the off side.
England’s cause was not helped by a thigh injury to Stuart Broad which limited him to 12 overs, and the absence of one of only three seamers in their attack would make an already onerous task doubly difficult tomorrow.