England shared chapter one with Wales. But day two of Cardiff's maiden Test match belonged entirely to Australia by the end with centuries from opener Simon Katich and captain Ricky Ponting putting the Ashes holders into a position of real promise.
"We've had the wind knocked out of our sails," was the honest assessment from spinner Graeme Swann after the Aussies had reached 249 for one in reply to 435 all out. "We are still nearly 200 runs ahead so it's not all doom and gloom by any means but we couldn't capitalise on our early momentum and that was disappointing."
With Swann playing almost every shot in the book during the morning session to make an unbeaten 47 from 40 balls and Jimmy Anderson supplying a bonus contribution of 26, England thrashed 99 runs in 17 overs before lunch to reach a total taller than even the optimistic Kevin Pietersen had suggested on Wednesday evening.
But although only last man Monty Panesar failed to reach double figures and seven players made it to 30, the hosts could not come up with a century-maker – and Australia already have two in the bank.
Katich – who gave Andrew Flintoff a difficult caught and bowled chance on 10 and survived a very giveable lbw appeal from Swann when 56 – completed his eighth Test century three overs before close of play. Ponting left it even later to register his 38th hundred at the highest level, scampering a single from the penultimate ball of the day after a couple of anxious false starts.
But both batsmen still have power to add tomorrow, having already put together a partnership of 189, and England were left wondering where their next wicket might come from with the fast bowlers unable to generate swing or seam movement and spinners Swann and Panesar achieving only slow turn. "It was a great start to the day and at lunch we were pretty happy with the way things had gone," said Swann. "Obviously we are not quite so happy now. A score of 249 for one probably sums up the way we bowled because we didn't put the ball in the right place often enough.
"We can whinge and moan about the ball going soft and the wicket being flat, Katich not being being given out lbw, but that is the way it goes. We are obviously a bit disappointed to be in this position and Australia certainly have the momentum now and as Fred [Andrew Flintoff] reminded us when we got back to the dressing room, the situation is very similar to what it was at The Oval four years ago and it only takes one good spell to get right back in the game."
It was Flintoff who yesterday produced England's only electrifying burst, dismissing Phillip Hughes after roughing up the young opener with some ferocious bouncers. But home supporters had hoped to see Swann and spin partner Monty Panesar posing real problems as well – and that failed to materialise yesterday.
"The ball turned about as much as I expected it to," said Swann. "Everyone has told me it was going to turn square but I've played here before and I know you have to work very hard for your wickets. We got a bit of false hope when [Australian spinner] Nathan Hauritz got a few to turn down the leg side, but Monty and I probably got a bit too excited."
England's big hope now is that the surface will start to break up – and that taking the second new ball today will help engineer the breakthrough that is now desperately needed.
"The pitch will turn more but it is certainly not going to speed up," said Swann. "As for the ball, I think all our bowlers are looking forward to throwing it in the river."
Katich had no complaints, of course, about either ball or pitch. This was his sixth century in 16 Tests since being recalled to the side following a barren run and, as a member of Australia's beaten 2005 squad, the left-hander also has an extra-strong desire to succeed in this Ashes series.
"This is a hungry group of players," said Katich. "We showed that when we won in South Africa recently. And there is no doubt what happened here four years ago hurt those of us who were on that tour. I'm one and Ricky is another and we are keen to make amends. We've had a good second day but the important thing now is to have another good one."
First Test details
Weather watch Sunny intervals. Max temp: 21c.
TV times Live: Sky Sports 1, HD1 10.0-19.0. Highlights: Sky Sports 1: 20.0-22.0, Channel Five 19.15-20.0.
Bet of the day
Simon Katich to hit 150+ runs in the first innings: 6/4 (Skybet).