England face survival battle
England slumped to 20-2 in their second innings, still 219 behind, when rain brought an early end to day four of the Ashes opener.
Last Updated: 12/07/09 6:53pm
First npower Test Match
England 435 (K P Pietersen 69, P D Collingwood 64, M J Prior 56) & 20-2 v Australia 674-6 dec (R T Ponting 150, M J North 125 no, S M Katich 122, B J Haddin 121, M J Clarke 83)
England face a test of nerve on the final day of the Ashes opener in Cardiff after slumping to 20-2 in their second innings, still 219 behind, when rain brought a premature close to the fourth day.
Marcus North and Brad Haddin plundered centuries as Australia declared their first innings at 674-6 in mid-afternoon - their highest total in an Ashes encounter for 75 years.
And Australia's new ball attack of Mitchell Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus both struck early to put England in deep trouble at tea.
Johnson removed Alastair Cook (6) lbw in the fifth over of the innings, the tall left-hander trapped in front of middle stump attempting to work a straight ball to square-leg.
His Essex colleague Ravi Bopara (1) followed in the next over, although he was unlucky to be adjudged leg-before by umpire Billy Doctrove as Hilfenhaus' outswinger was comfortably clearing the stumps.
Andrew Strauss (6no) and Kevin Pietersen (3no) made it through to tea when, fortunately for the hosts, rain arrived in the Welsh capital to end England's day four nightmare.
Haddin and North had earlier become the respective third and fourth centurions of Australia's innings to set up the declaration.
Resuming on 479-5, the tourists added 98 runs without losing a wicket during the first session.
North, on 54 overnight, pushed on to his second Test century, bringing up the landmark from 206 balls with a scrambled two off James Anderson just before lunch.
England captain Andrew Strauss had waited over an hour before he first turned to spin, instead opting to use his trio of seamers - Anderson, Stuart Broad (1-129) and Andrew Flintoff (1-128) - to little effect.
He finally turned to left-armer Monty Panesar in the 14th over and off-spinner Graeme Swann was introduced at the Cathedral end three overs later.
The pair proved an improvement with both North and Haddin suddenly looking far less comfortable against England's spin twins.
But despite a couple of near misses, particularly when Haddin looked to drive against the turn, the breakthrough did not come.
Haddin reached his half-century in the over before lunch and then moved through the gears to race to his second Test hundred in just 48 further deliveries.
Three consecutive fours off Anderson (2-110) lifted the tempo, with Haddin bringing up Australia's 600 by hitting a Swann (0-131) delivery over midwicket for six.
The New South Wales wicketkeeper, like North playing in his first Ashes Test, then displayed exquisite footwork to loft Panesar (1-115) for a straight six.
His century - made in 138 balls - came with a leg glance for a single off Paul Collingwood's medium pace and was greeted with lavish celebrations.
Haddin did not ease up, however; rather he promptly dismissed a delivery from Collingwood through midwicket for four before blasting the next ball for a flat six.
Ponting appeared on the balcony to issue the declaration after Haddin (121) was caught in the deep by Bopara attempting to once again smash Collingwood's (1-38) medium pace out of the ground. North finished unbeaten on 125, the sixth-wicket pair having put on exactly 200.
Australia had plundered 97 in the 15 overs after lunch and their day improved further as England - who spent a total of 12 hours and 24 minutes toiling in the field - slipped into early trouble in their second innings.
The rain provided a reprieve for the hosts at tea but, with better weather forecast for Sunday, Strauss' men still have a long road to travel to safety.