Record-breaking Aussies pummel England

CARDIFF: Australia saw four of their batsmen score centuries in a Test innings against England for the first time as they took command of the Ashes series opener at Sophia Gardens here on Saturday.

A stand of 200 between Ashes debutants Marcus North (125 not out) and wicket-keeper Brad Haddin (121), which followed Friday's efforts of 150 from captain Ricky Ponting and 122 from opener Simon Katich, saw Australia to a huge total of 674 for six declared before tea on the fourth day.

Come the interval, England had collapsed to 20 for two - still needing a further 219 runs to make Australia bat again - after Alastair Cook was lbw to Mitchell Johnson and Ravi Bopara fell the same way to Ben Hilfenhaus, with both Essex batsmen playing across the line.

England, with captain Andrew Strauss six not out and Kevin Pietersen unbeaten on three, were then only spared further humiliation by the rain which washed out Saturday's final session and now looks like their best hope of saving the game.

"Ricky and Kat put us in a great position, they wore them down and we had an opportunity to keep them in the field," North, who has played for five English counties, told reporters.

"Any hundred you score is a good hundred but I would give it up for the weather staying away and us taking eight wickets tomorrow (Sunday)."

England all-rounder Paul Collingwood admitted: "That was a tough day. We've got to regroup, refresh and bat three sessions (to save the game)."

Much had been made ahead of this match of Australia, who won the last Ashes 5-0 in 2006/07, being without retired stars Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.

They'd also lost experienced fast bowler Brett Lee to a rib injury 48 hours before the first Test ever played in Wales started.

But Australia, without all six of those players, had won a Test series in South Africa against a strong Proteas side earlier this year.

And in the last 20 years they'd lost just one Ashes campaign, in 2005, when everything went England's way.

Only once before in Ashes history had four batsmen scored centuries in an innings, during the course of England's 658 for eight declared at Trent Bridge in 1938.

And this was also the first time any side had scored four hundreds in a Test innings against England.

All five of England's frontline bowlers - James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Andrew Flintoff and Monty Panesar - conceded more than 100 runs each as Australia ruthlessly punished a lacklustre attack on a good batting pitch.

In the process Australia provided a masterclass in how to make a big score after three England batsmen - Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Matthew Prior - had got to fifty on the first day without getting to a hundred.

North and Haddin became the 15th and 16th Australians to score centuries in their first Test innings against England and the first since Damien Martyn and Gilchrist both achieved the feat at Edgbaston in 2001.

Haddin, a stylish wicket-keeper/batsman who had the unenviable task of succeeding Gilchrist, showed his class by going down the pitch to loft left-arm spinner Panesar for six.

And he then slogged swept off-spinner Swann to bring up Australia's 600.

Haddin's single off Swann saw the 31-year-old to his second century in 16 Tests after his 169 against New Zealand at Adelaide in November.

Haddin eventually holed out off medium-pacer Collingwood to end a 151-ball innings featuring three sixes and 11 fours, at which point Ponting declared.

North's hundred was his second in three Tests after he made a century on debut against South Africa in Johannesburg in February.

The 29-year-old Western Australia left-hander, 54 not out when Australia resumed Saturday on 479 for five with Haddin unbeaten on four, batted for more than six hours and faced 242 balls with 13 boundaries in a chanceless innings.