The third day belongs to Ponting's side, despite a burst of three wickets by Anderson and Panesar.
England left frustrated by Australia batsmen
Rain stopped Team Australia - 463 for four - in their tracks for the moment as Ricky Ponting's side were setting their sights on a major first-innings lead in the opening Ashes Test yesterday. Michael Clarke (74 not out) and Marcus North (51 not out) put on an unbeaten 132-run partnership for the fifth wicket after overcoming the loss of three quick wickets to frustrate England's efforts.
Resuming the third morning of the first npower Test trailing by 186 runs on 249 for one, Australia's hopes of establishing a major stranglehold in Cardiff appeared undermined when they lost three wickets in nine overs before lunch. But after that uncertain period in the morning session, vice captain Clarke and North forged an unbroken stand till beyond the post-tea session when it started to rain.
It was another impressive response by Australia after losing centurions Simon Katich and Ricky Ponting in quick succession to the new ball before fast bowler James Anderson dismissed Michael Hussey for just three. Ponting, unbeaten on 100 overnight needing a further 115 to become his country's highest Test run-scorer, looked the more assured of the two overnight batsmen when play began. He quickly seized on a short ball from left-arm spinner Monty Panesar in the sixth over of the morning to cut his first boundary and when off-spinner Graeme Swann was introduced in the next over, Ponting drove his first ball down the ground for another boundary.
It was not until England took the new ball they began gaining some encouragement, although Ponting hit Anderson for two boundaries in his first over while Andrew Flintoff's first ball of the following over flew so wide that the wicketkeeper Matt Prior had to take it in front of first slip. But once Anderson found his range and began to swing it, Australia looked less comfortable with Katich finally falling for an impressive 122 in the fifth over with the new ball.
Katich, who added 239 runs with Ponting, had shown his bravery in the previous over when he allowed a bouncer from Flintoff to hit him in the back rather than risk playing it. He lasted just one more over with Anderson swinging the ball into him and hitting him on the front pad to persuade umpire Billy Doctrove to finally lift his finger. Anderson struck again six overs later to claim his second wicket in a six-over spell with Hussey attempting to drive outside off-stump but edged behind to give Prior a low catch.
England captain Andrew Strauss decided to replaced Anderson four overs later and replace him with Panesar and the switch brought immediate rewards when he claimed the scalp of the Australian captain. Ponting had just reached another milestone by progressing to his 150 when he spotted a short ball from Panesar and rocked back in preparation of adding to his 14 fours and a six in his innings. For one of the few times in his innings spanning more than five hours, however, Ponting mis-timed his shot and got a bottom edge on to his stumps to give England an unexpected bonus before the interval.
It provided England with the opportunity to put pressure on Australia for the first time since they began their innings, but Clarke and North remained composed throughout and neither batsmen gave a chance. Clarke claimed his half-century by driving Swann through mid-off for the sixth four of his innings having also hit Panesar down the ground for six several overs earlier. But it was North who finally pushed Australia into the lead off the final ball of the 127th over when he pulled Flintoff for four and completed his first Ashes half-century in the over before tea to become the fourth Australian batsman in the innings to reach such a milestone.
* With agencies