Australia revealed their hand yesterday. They started batting shortly before lunch and conveyed the impression from then on that several lunches might come and go before they were prepared to stop.
The strategy was deceptively simple and oppressively effective: get in, do not get out and grind England down. Its architect was also its major exponent. Ricky Ponting, Australia's captain, had reminded his men of what to expect and what was expected and practised it perfectly.
He was assisted throughout by Simon Katich, a reinvented left-hander, and during most of two sessions on the second day of the first npower Test they shared an unbroken second-wicket partnership of 189. In the evening both reached centuries, Ponting for the 38th time and the eighth against England, Katich for the eighth and the first time in an Ashes Test.
Ponting was doggedly flawless, Katich almost so and the manner in which they diligently avoided risk but always kept the board ticking along at three runs an over was calculating on the day and ominous for the summer. By the close Australia were 186 behind England, who had matters almost entirely their own way in the opening part of the day and none whatever thereafter.
All five of England's bowlers toiled away, occasionally passing the bat, more often not, but never applying the kind of sustained pressure that made it possible to believe the batsmen's defences would be breached any time soon.
The only wicket to fall was that of the boy marvel Phillip Hughes, who had bristled with intent as soon he began his Ashes career and will never perish wondering. He was toppled during a ferocious spell of authentic fast bowling by Andrew Flintoff early in the afternoon, getting an inside edge to a flat-footed slash, which was smartly taken by Matthew Prior.
Flintoff might also have snaffled Katich in the same spell but narrowly failed to hold on to a return catch low to his right – it would have been a remarkable effort had he done so – and was by some distance the most telling of England's bowlers. If he deserved greater reward, neither Ponting nor Katich was much of a mind to let him have it.
By comparison, England's other two fast men, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, were off the pace. This is a big series for Anderson who has made impressive advances recently but the sluggish pitch undid him and he became progressively less threatening with each spell. The hint of reverse swing towards the end of the day should have encouraged him but the batsmen battened down the hatches a little more tightly. Broad was slightly inconsistent and after going off for treatment on a calf strain did not bowl again although England delivered 28 overs after his return.
Of the spinners, Graeme Swann was more impressive than Monty Panesar and turned the ball sharply if slowly. He might have been granted an lbw appeal against Katich when the batsman was 56 but umpire Billy Doctrove is from the school of officialdom which prefers the ball to be hitting all three stumps halfway up with the batsman back in his crease before thinking of beginning to raise his index finger.
It could have been foretold that Ponting would come out and do this at the start of the series, laying down his marker, establishing his territory. At the age of 34 he is not quite the batsman he was and there have been broad hints that he is entering his declining batting years.
But he is dogged as well as highly accomplished and however diplomatic his pronouncements on the matter might be, his eyes and the set of his jaw betray how much he wants to win this series to compensate for the events of 2005. He has not returned to fail.
From the outset yesterday Ponting was about to give England nothing. Australia might have been disrupted by events earlier in the day when England were swaggering. Expecting to face a long haul to reach 400, they got there in swashbuckling comfort.
Anderson, the nightwatchman, and Broad both played some unrestrained drives against ragged bowling but it was Swann who glided. He climbed into the Australian attack with glee and the reverse sweep for four off Nathan Hauritz would have undermined lesser sides.
England must have been delighted with themselves but were immediately reminded, as if they needed reminding, of the nature of the contest they were in. Hughes came out slugging and England, for all that they must have known what they ought not to do, played into his hands. Perhaps they should have asked Flintoff to take the new ball, since he is their most accurate as well as their fastest bowler.
He was introduced straight after lunch and Hughes was restrained. The first over was wonderful to behold as Flintoff not only slipped a couple of well-directed bouncers but a spoken reminder to the 20-year-old brought up on a banana farm the nature of the competition he was in. Hughes is unorthodox, shifting away to leg to plunder runs through the off-side and he has an enviable eye. He is the sort of free spirit it would be a travesty to change but he may have to tighten up if he is to continue to prosper.
Hughes' departure brought in Ponting. This is his fourth tour of England, his second as captain and he wore England down. He pulled crisply and there were a few crunching drives but it was the cussedness that took the eye more than the style.
Both batsmen, rather unfairly, reached their hundreds off Flintoff as the day drew to its close. Katich was first, pulling the 214th ball he had faced backward of square for one and off the day's penultimate ball an anxious Ponting, keen to avoid being landed on 99, pushed a sharp single to reach three figures from 155 balls. They had made a significant statement and England need to supply a rejoinder quickly.
Sophia Gardens: Scoreboard
The Ashes – First Test; England won the toss
England First innings
*A J Strauss c Clarke b Johnson 30 87min, 60 balls, 4 fours
A N Cook c Hussey b Hilfenhaus 10 32min, 25 balls
R S Bopara c Hughes b Johnson 35 76min, 52 balls, 6 fours
K P Pietersen c Katich b Hauritz 69 201min, 141 balls, 4 fours
P D Collingwood c Haddin b Hilfenhaus 64 155min, 145 balls, 6 fours
†M J Prior b Siddle 56 102min, 62 balls, 6 fours
A Flintoff b Siddle 37 68min, 51 balls, 6 fours
J M Anderson c Hussey b Hauritz 26 75min, 40 balls, 2 fours
S C J Broad b Johnson 19 24 mins, 20 balls, 4 fours
G P Swann not out 47 57min, 40 balls, 6 fours
M S Panesar c Ponting b Hauritz 4 16min, 17 balls
Extras (b 13, lb 11, w 2, nb 12, pens 0) 38
Total (451min, 106.5overs) 435
Fall: 1-21 (Cook), 2-67 (Strauss), 3-90 (Bopara), 4-228 (Collingwood), 5-241 (Pietersen), 6-327 (Flintoff), 7-329 (Prior), 8-355 (Broad), 9-423 (Anderson), 10-435 (Panesar).
Bowling: Johnson 22-2-87-3 (3-0-10-0 3-0-12-1 3-1-15-1 4-1-8-0 2-0-10-0 2-0-11-0 4-0-20-1 1-0-1-0), Hilfenhaus 27-5-77-2 (nb4,w1) (7-3-10-1 5-0-17-0 7-2-16-1 4-0-18-0 4-0-16-0), Siddle 27-3-121-2 (nb5,w1) (8-0-38-0 5-2-11-0 7-0-28-0 7-1-44-2), Hauritz 23.5-1-95-3 (nb3) (14-1-41-0 5-0-26-1 4.5-0-28-2), Clarke 5-0-20-0, Katich 2-0-11-0 (one spell each).
Progress: First day: Close 336-7 (Anderson 2, Broad 4). Innings closed 12.15pm.
Australia First innings
P J Hughes c Prior b Flintoff 36 61min, 54 balls, 5 fours
S M Katich not out 104 276min, 219 balls, 8 fours
*R T Ponting not out 100 214min, 155 balls, 9 fours
Extras (b 0, lb 6, w 1, nb 2, pens 0) 9
Total (1 wkt, 276min, 71 overs) 249
Fall: 1-60 (Hughes).
To bat: M E K Hussey, M J Clarke, M J North, +B J Haddin, M G Johnson, N M Hauritz, P M Siddle, B W Hilfenhaus.
Bowling: Anderson 13-1-57-0 (w1) (4-0-16-0 4-0-19-0 5-1-22-0), Broad 12-1-58-0 (2-0-14-0 6-0-27-0 4-1-17-0), Swann 20-7-49-0 (2-0-5-0 7-5-7-0 1-0-5-0 9-2-30-0 1-0-2-0), Flintoff 15-3-48-1 (nb2) (6-2-15-1 1-0-4-0 4-0-15-0 4-1-14-0), Panesar 11-2-31-0 (5-0-17-0 4-1-11-0 2-1-3-0).
Progress: Second day: Lunch 39-0 (Hughes 28, Katich 6) 8 overs. 50 in 54 mins, 13.3 overs. 100 in 111 mins, 26.5 overs. Tea 142-1 (Katich 53, Ponting 44) 39 overs. 150 in 163min, 41.4 overs. 200 in 221min, 57.3 overs.
Umpires: Aleem Dar and B R Doctrove.
TV replay umpire: R A Kettleborough.
Match referee: J J Crowe.
Clockwatch: How events unfolded on the second day in Cardiff
11.43am Graeme Swann reverse sweeps his third consecutive four off Nathan Hauritz. England are rattling along, the Aussies are rattled.
12.04pm Australia are in temporary disarray as Swann clips Hauritz straight into mid-wicket's hands only for the umpire to signal no-ball much to the confusion of the non-striker Monty Panesar who wonders why Swann is calling him for a run.
12.34pm Phillip Hughes announces himself in Ashes cricket with a square cut for four from a short, wide ball by Stuart Broad, precisely the stuff England should not be bowling at him.
1.42pm Andrew Flintoff joins the attack and immediately discomfits Hughes (who had hitherto looked resplendent) with a barrage of ferocious short bowling and the odd verbal volley.
2.50pm Ricky Ponting steals a single to become the 16th Australian to make 2,000 runs against England. He will soon overtake Arthur Morris and Ian Chappell but has some way to go to beat Don Bradman's 5,028.
3.30pm Meaning business now, Ponting pulls for two runs and joins Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Allan Border as the only players to have made 11,000 Test runs.
6.10pm Simon Katich pulls the tireless Flintoff towards the Australian contingent in the crowd eliciting huge cheers for his first Ashes century. A timely shot, cunningly placed.
6.14pm Ponting tries to dash for a single to complete his century, but he has to turn back hurriedly, nervously. Next ball he gets what he wants, his century to underline Australia's dominance of day two.
Number of Test centuries hit by Ricky Ponting after his ton in Cardiff yesterday.