Australia leave England in peril
England suffered a double hammer-blow with the loss of Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara shortly after Australia had declared with a 239-run first-innings lead.
Both batsmen fell lbw, to Mitchell Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus respectively, as the hosts slipped to 20 for two when rain prevented the players from re-emerging after tea.
Cook played across a full delivery to depart six, while Bopara was unlucky to be given out for one by Billy Doctrove, having been struck high on his front pad.
Andrew Strauss had six and Kevin Pietersen three with the Cardiff floodlights again illuminating the gloom.
Marcus North and Brad Haddin earlier blasted centuries to put Australia firmly in control, upping the ante in the hour and a quarter after lunch.
Haddin sped to a century, having taken lunch on 50, with some mighty blows as the tourists amassed a mammoth 674. He was the sixth wicket to fall, prompting Ricky Ponting to call North in.
The pair added an even 200 with North contributing 125 from 242 deliveries and Haddin 121 from 151 balls. It was the first time that four Australia batsmen have made centuries in an innings against England and the total was their highest in Ashes Tests since 1934.
Having consolidated in the 20 minutes after the interval, the North and Haddin looked to score quickly and succeeded in battering England into submission.
The bowlers toiled on a surface that offered a modicum of encouragement only to the spinners, who did not feature until the second hour.
Play began under cloudy skies with heavy rain forecast in the afternoon, making a full day’s play unlikely.
Haddin soon took the attack to England with a pair of fours in the second over, bowled by Stuart Broad, albeit the second a streaky top-edge to the fine leg rope.
An exquisite cover drive in Broad’s next showed greater control before North got in on the act, pulling James Anderson for four through midwicket to bring up Australia’s 500 in the fifth over.
Broad and Anderson combined to send down three consecutive maidens in front of a largely muted crowd, waiting patiently for a wicket to cheer.
They were buoyed by Andrew Flintoff’s introduction in the 10th over but Haddin asserted his authority with a straight-driven boundary.
North again got in the act, bludgeoning Broad through a densely-populated cover region and sublimely cutting him through a vacant third man.
Monty Panesar replaced Broad, as the fifty partnership came from 93 deliveries, and Graeme Swann’s introduction saw England switch to an all-spin attack.
The pair asked more questions of the batsmen, although any turn they exacted was slow on a surface not sufficiently sun-baked to fully reward England’s decision to field two specialist slow bowlers.
Haddin once again demonstrated the point with a cheeky cut for four off Swann right where slip would have been.
Strauss opted to delay taking the second new ball for three overs. He turned to Flintoff who forced North into a miscued inside edge for four before Haddin cut him powerfully to the rope.
North went to his hundred in the next over, bowled by Anderson, with a well-run two before a Haddin quick single took him to 50 off Flintoff.
Flintoff and Anderson continued after lunch, which Australia took with a lead of 142, but to no avail as Haddin climbed into the latter with three fours in the third over after the interval.
Haddin continued his assault with a maximum off Swann over square-leg to herald the 600. Panesar suffered similar punishment from North as he became the fifth England bowler to go for a gallon. There was no let up as Haddin deposited Panesar for a straight six.
North was fortunate to survive on 117 when he edged an off-cutter from Collingwood, experimenting with spin, through a vacant slip region.
Haddin brought up his century with a clip off Collingwood for one before launching the hapless bowler four four and six.
North secured Australia’s second double hundred alliance immediately before Haddin holed out to Bopara, who took a smart catch over his left shoulder at deep midwicket off Collingwood.