Michael Clarke and Marcus North both notched half-centuries as Australia built on the hundreds from Ricky Ponting and Simon Katich to take the lead on the third day in Cardiff. England had staged a morning fight back with James Anderson claiming two with the new ball, but Clarke and North pushed Australia 23 ahead by tea with the promise of much more to come.Ponting and Katich carried their second-wicket partnership to 239 before Katich fell for 122 and when Ponting dragged Monty Panesar into his stumps for 150 Australia were still more than 100 behind. England harboured hopes of first-innings parity, but the visitors are now in the position to claiming a commanding lead after not losing a wicket during the afternoon session

Clarke is Ponting’s heir apparent in so many ways and his innings bore many similarities with that of his captain. There was a swiftness of footwork against the spinners and conviction of strokeplay especially with his driving. He lofted Panesar straight over long-off for six and brought up his half century from 100 balls when he drove the same bowler past mid-off before repeating the dose from the next delivery.North settled into his first Ashes innings and the talk of his uncertain early-tour form now seems a long time ago. Buoyed by the 191 he made against England Lions last week he watchfully negotiated the early part of his stay before expanding his range. He slog-swept the spinners through and over the leg side and when they tried to go wider outside off he cut through the covers.

Clarke took Australia into the lead with a meaty pull off Flintoff and North reached his half-century from 107 balls. Apart from when the ball has been new England’s attack has posed little threat with Stuart Broad leaking runs at more than four-an-over and the spinners unable to build sustained pressure.There were nine overs until the new ball was due when play began and if Andrew Strauss was in any doubt whether to take it his mind was soon made up as Panesar and Graeme Swann leaked boundaries. Ponting’s swift footwork created scoring opportunities against Panesar who had a tendency to bowl too short, while Swann continued to pitch too full with two full tosses racing to the boundary.

The harder ball immediately provided more of a threat although it also raced off the bat as Ponting drove supremely through cover. However, the Australian captain flirted with the gully area as one cut fell short of Kevin Pietersen and another flew through the gap. Finally, after 70 overs, England found a way through as Anderson speared in a yorker at Katich and most importantly for the bowler the ball swung late to end a superb display of concentration and application.The intensity lifted as Flintoff steamed in and struck Michael Hussey on the helmet, while Anderson was now moving the ball in both directions. Anderson’s second scalp came with another full delivery which lured Hussey into a flat-footed drive and Matt Prior took a low catch. England now had the advantage of bowling at two right-handers and Anderson gave Clarke’s technique an early probing.

Ponting, though, was continuing along his classy path, only occasionally being discomforted by Anderson’s late swing and a beauty from Flintoff that beat the outside edge. He top-edged a six over Panesar at long-leg and went to his 150 from 221 deliveries.

England’s new-ball pair couldn’t bowl forever and Strauss had to try his options. With the ball still hard he gave Panesar another spell, which paid off handsomely when Ponting got a bottom edge into his stumps against one that skidded through. He had played so solidly that it was almost a shock to see Ponting walking back, but it was far from the end of England’s problems.

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