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Australia in command against shoddy England

Australia captain Ricky Ponting hit 78 as England made a disastrous start to the penultimate Test of the npower Ashes series.

Ponting and Shane Watson shared a stand of 119 runs for the second wicket, which put Australia into the lead, before both perished in consecutive overs.

Australia closed a dramatic start to the match at Headingley on 196 for four, a lead of 94 runs.

It is a position from which it is hard to envisage them failing to level the series.

Makeshift opener Watson was dismissed two balls after registering his third half-century in as many innings when he attempted to whip the ball through the leg side to be lbw to Graham Onions.

Then Ponting was also lbw when he fell over to a delivery which nipped back from Stuart Broad.

When Broad then gained another lbw, from around the wicket this time against Michael Hussey, Australia had lost three for 18 runs.

England's first success came in Steve Harmison's first over back in Test cricket since the winter, when Simon Katich was held at leg-gully from a delivery of extra bounce.

England had earlier capitulated on an opening day immersed in chaos in the build-up and which transferred onto the field.

All-rounder Andrew Flintoff was ruled out this morning as anticipated and wicketkeeper Matt Prior provided a major injury scare when he suffered a back spasm in practice.

Prior was passed fit after the toss was delayed by 10 minutes but only he and Alastair Cook reached double figures in an indisciplined batting display.

England were shot out for 102 with eight of the dismissals caught by either recalled wicketkeeper Brad Haddin or the enhanced slip cordon.

England's day effectively began at 4.45am when a fire alarm forced them out of their Leeds city centre hotel.