Australia strike first Ashes blows

CARDIFF: Mitchell Johnson struck twice as Australia got their Ashes defence off to a fine start by removing England's top three before lunch on the first day of the first Test at Sophia Gardens here on Wednesday.

England, who'd won the toss, were 97 for three at the interval after the exits of Alastair Cook, captain Andrew Strauss and Ravi Bopara.

Left-arm quick Johnson, the spearhead of Australia's attack in their 2-1 series win in South Africa earlier this year, had taken two wickets for 37 runs in nine overs and Ben Hilfenhaus a miserly one for 17 in 10.

Kevin Pietersen was six not out and Paul Collingwood five not out.

When fast bowler Brett Lee was ruled out Monday with a rib injury it meant Australia, who thrashed England 5-0 in 2006/07, would go into this match with none of their pace attack having before played in an Ashes Test.

They opted for Hilfenhaus instead of the more experienced Stuart Clark, who has played English county cricket, and also chose off-spinner Nathan Hauritz.

England made sedate early progress on a slow pitch in what was the first Test ever played in Cardiff.

But Hilfenhaus struck in the eighth over thanks to brilliant fielding from Mike Hussey.

Left-hander Cook (10), playing loosely away from his body, saw Hussey hold a brilliant one-handed catch in the gully as he dived to his right.

England were now 21 for one.

Bopara, making his Ashes debut, was then hit second ball in the throat by first-change Peter Siddle, who was getting more out of the pitch than the new-ball duo, and he got off the mark thanks to a fortunate inside edge.

But Bopara, who'd scored hundreds in his last three Tests, all against the West Indies, did strike several elegant boundaries.

However, when it seemed Bopara was settling in, the Essex batsman was hit on the head by a Johnson bouncer.

But it was Strauss, who'd looked assured while making 30, who was out to a well-directed bouncer from Johnson when, after taking his eye off the ball, the left-hander gloved to Michael Clarke in the slips.

And just when it seemed Bopara would bat through to lunch, his topsy-turvy innings of 35, featuring six fours, came to an end when he spooned a catch off Johnson to Phillip Hughes at point.