Ponting puts England to the sword in Ashes opener

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The Independent Online

Ricky Ponting hit another brilliant century as Australia dominated the opening exchanges of the new Ashes series against England at the Gabba.

The Australian captain maintained the prolific run of form he has enjoyed since surrendering the Ashes at the Oval 14 months ago by hitting his ninth century since then on the first day of the opening Test.

His unbeaten 137 helped Australia reach a commanding 346 for three by the close after England struggled to reach the levels of performance they so memorably achieved during that 2005 series triumph.

Ponting's ninth century in the 13 Tests he has played since the Ashes took his career tally to 32 and brought him level with Steve Waugh as the most by an Australian and fourth in the all-time list.

More importantly it set the tone for Australia as they attempt to live up the huge expectations from their public to regain the Ashes they so memorably lost last summer.

Today's century was also one of his most enjoyable judging by the dance of delight he produced after reaching three figures by clipping Matthew Hoggard through mid-wicket for three.

His superb display must have reminded England about their disastrous opening day to the corresponding Test four years ago when then captain Nasser Hussain decided to bowl first after winning the toss and then watched Australia pile up a daunting 364 for two.

This time around England had no choice in the matter, but would still have hoped to set the tone for the series with an aggressive opening from their new ball bowlers similar to Lord's in 2005, when Steve Harmison hit Justin Langer in the opening over.

Instead of signalling their aggressive intent, however, England struggled to find their rhythm from the moment the first ball of the match from Harmison was so wide it had to be collected by Flintoff at second slip.

Harmison went on to conceded nine runs in the opening over and two more boundaries from Langer in his next over persuaded Flintoff to spare Harmison any more punishment and replaced him from the Stanley Street End with James Anderson.

England's only cause for optimism during the early stages came when Hoggard, who had been spared the punishment from the Vulture Street End, induced Matthew Hayden into a false stroke on nine which flew past Ian Bell's dive at gully for four.

That bowling combination at least stemmed Australia's run flow for a number of overs, but could not prevent Langer cutting through point for four in the 11th over of the day from Anderson to bring up the half-century partnership in only 48 minutes.

The drinks interval seemed to galvanise England, though, and after Langer brought up his half-century off only 66 balls with a single off Flintoff, the England captain struck two balls later by squaring up Hayden with a lifting delivery he guided to second slip.

Flintoff remained England's most potent bowler after the interval and halted Australia's lighting-quick start after lunch when they plundered 26 in the first three overs of the afternoon session.

That run spree was ended when Langer attempted one shot too many by cutting a rare loose delivery from Flintoff straight to Kevin Pietersen at point having hammered 13 boundaries in his 82.

Any grounds for optimism were countered by the growing confidence of Ponting, who entered this match having hit eight centuries in his last 11 Test to average 81.35 during that period.

He quickly combined with new batsman Martyn, who took an immediate liking to Giles by advancing down the pitch and launching him down the ground for four.

But Giles got his revenge three overs later when Martyn attempted a late cut but this time found the safe hands of Paul Collingwood for an unexpected breakthrough.

It was to be England's last glimpse of success for some time as Ponting teamed up with new batsman Mike Hussey in an unbroken 148-run stand, which helped him reach his sixth Ashes century.

Just as ominously for England as they conduct their post-mortem into the opening day's play, Hussey had progressed almost effortlessly to an unbeaten 63 by the close.

BRISBANE, Australia
Scoreboard at stumps Thursday after the opening day of the first Ashes cricket test between Australia and England at the Gabba ground in Brisbane:
Australia won the toss

Australia, 1st Innings
Justin Langer c Pietersen b Flintoff 82
Matt Hayden c Collingwood b Flintoff 21
Ricky Ponting not out 137
Damien Martyn c Collingwood b Giles 29
Michael Hussey not out 63
Extras: (5lb,3w,6nb) 14
TOTAL: (for three wickets) 346.

Overs: 90. Batting time: 391 minutes.
Fall of wickets: 1-79, 2-141, 3-198.

Still to bat: Michael Clarke, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Stuart Clark, Glenn McGrath.
Bowling: Steve Harmison 12-2-52-0 (2w), Matthew Hoggard 16-2-62-0 (1nb), James Anderson 18-4-88-0 (1w), Andrew Flintoff 16-2-48-2 (3nb), Ashley Giles 18-2-51-1, Ian Bell 1-0-12-0 (2nb), Kevin Pietersen 9-1-28-0.
Umpires: Steve Bucknor, West Indies, and Billy Bowden, New Zealand.
Match referee: Jeff Crowe, New Zealand.

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