Aussies gain lead over England

Cardiff, July 10

Australia captain Ricky Ponting led from the front with a commanding innings of 150 as the Ashes holders regained the advantage in the first Test against England here on Friday.

Australia, at stumps on the third day, were 479-5 — a lead of 44 runs. Marcus North, making his Ashes debut, was 54 not out and Brad Haddin four not out.

Ponting and opener Simon Katich (122) had both rammed home how wasteful a trio of England batsmen, including Kevin Pietersen, had been in not going on after making first-day fifties. But the weather, which stopped play for more than two hours in the final session because of a rain break, was threatening to play a decisive role.

An already historic match — this was the first Test played in Wales — became even more so when the floodlights were switched on in the final session to enable play to re-start following a rain break of more than two hours. It was the first time an England home Test had been floodlit but after 28 minutes the umpires ruled the conditions unsuitable and called play off.

Unfortunately for Australia, that was enough time for them to lose vice-captain Michael Clarke for 83 when he gloved a hook off Stuart Broad to wicket-keeper Matt Prior. The manner of Clarke’s dismissal was unexpected as he’d batted with authority during a 145-ball knock featuring a six and nine fours.

It also meant more disappointment in the first Test of an Ashes series for Clarke, who was also in sight of a hundred at Lord’s in 2005 where he made 91. A slow pitch, not for the first time in this match, proving more of an obstacle to bowlers than batsmen and England, who had broken through with the new-ball before lunch, endured a wicketless second session where Australia scored 110 runs. Clarke was only 19 not out at lunch and North unbeaten on nought. But apart from a couple of top-edged sweeps, which fell into the unguarded short fine leg area, the duo were rarely troubled in a fifth-wicket partnership of 143.

Clarke played some sparkling shots in his innings. He went down the pitch to loft Monty Panesar for a straight six and reached the landmark when he drove off-spinner Graeme Swann for four. Swann was struggling and once again England captain Andrew Strauss turned to Andrew Flintoff, England’s 2005 hero. But North’s single off Flintoff saw the left-hander, who has played for five English counties, to a fifty in 107 balls with seven fours.