England 435 (Pietersen 69, Collingwood 64) & 20-2 v
Australia 674-6 dec. (Ponting 150, North 125no)
First Test, Cardiff, day four: close
By John Pennington
Australia remained comfortably ahead of England on day four of the first Ashes Test in Cardiff, declaring their second innings on 674 for nine, 239 runs ahead before they nipped out a couple of wickets in England's second innings before the rain wiped out the final session of play.
Marcus North (125 not out) and Brad Haddin (122 not out) batted throughout the first session of slow, attritional cricket but it was they who were wearing down England right from the word go and they stretched their partnership for the sixth wicket to 200 before Haddin was caught on the boundary by Ravi Boapra.
Sloppy fielding in the first hour and some non-threatening bowling from James Anderson and Stuart Broad allowed the two batsmen to ease themselves back in the session and it was not until Andrew Flintoff was introduced that the Australians found themselves under a little pressure.
Nevertheless, Haddin soon punched him down the ground while North frustrated England captain Andrew Struass by piercing seven off-side fielders to reach the boundary on one occasion as he progressed towards his second career Test century.
England, who for much of the session looked uninterested, almost as if they were just waiting for the rain that is forecast to arrive sometime today, eventually turned to spin and immediately both Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann had the batsmen feeling outside the off-stump but aside from a couple of spurious leg before appeals and a bat-pad chance that looped past short leg, Australia remained in control.
North slog-swept powerfully while Haddin deftly flicked Swann through third man as the boundaries continued to flow and Australia pushed their score past 500 and the lead past 100.
North then completed a superb, chanceless century five minutes before lunch with a scrambled couple of runs to deep backward point, for the second time scoring a century on his first Test against new opponents and becoming the 22nd Australian to score a century on Ashes debut.
The runs came much quicker after lunch, England leaking 51 runs in seven overs and Haddin racing to his second career century with 51 runs coming from 45 balls after the interval.
It was also the first time in Ashes history that Australia had had four centurions in the same innings and Haddin then opened his shoulders, brutally smashing England's bowlers straight down the ground and through midwicket for a total of ten fours and three sixes in all.
It took a smart catch at midwicket by Bopara to end the partnership, Paul Collingwood's medium pace picking up the wicket that signalled enough punishment for Ricky Ponting and he was rewarded when Mitchell Johnson trapped Alastair Cook (6) in front to leave England on the back foot. Ben Hilfenhaus then repeated the trick to dismiss Ravi Bopara (1) and leave England in disarray.
Centuries on day two for Ricky Ponting (150) and Simon Katich (122) put Australia in the strong position of 479 for five overnight, replying to England's 435, built around half-centuries from Kevin Pietersen (69), Paul Collingwood (64) and Matthew Prior (56).
© Cricket World 2009