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Ponting puts Australia well on top

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BRISBANE, Australia -- Ricky Ponting completed his 32nd Test hundred as Australia dominated the opening day of the first Ashes Test against England at the Gabba.

The Australian captain batted magnificently to reach the close unbeaten on 137 with Mike Hussey 63 and the world champions in cruise control at 346 for three.

It was a tough day in the field for England who lost the toss at the start of their bid to defend the Ashes they won back last year, for the first time since 1989.

Justin Langer gave the Australians a flying start when he blazed a quick 82 but England briefly pegged them back, dismissing Matthew Hayden (21) and Damien Martyn (29) before an unbroken partnership of 148 between Ponting and Hussey tipped the scales firmly Australia's way.

Captain Andrew Flintoff was the best England bowler, capturing the wickets of Australian openers Langer and Hayden, while left-arm spinner Ashley Giles dismissed Martyn after getting the nod ahead of Monty Panesar.

However, England's three main pace bowlers failed to threaten with Steve Harmison ominously starting the series with a horrendous wide that went straight to Flintoff at second slip and conceding 52 runs from 12 wayward overs.

James Anderson was equally ineffective, going for 88 off 18 and Matthew Hoggard leaked 62 from 16. Part-timers Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell bowled 10 overs as England searched for a breakthrough.

While England's bowlers disappointed, the tourists did at least field much better than their last visit to Australia, when they conceded 364 on the opening day to set the tone for a series in which they lost the Ashes after only 11 days.

The Australians, desperate to avenge the series loss in England last year, batted with a ruthlessness that illustrated their determination to win back the Ashes.

Ponting, who has scored nine hundreds in 13 matches since the last Ashes series, underlined his class with a chanceless display.

He opened his account with he pulled Harmison to the boundary and set about building an innings that featured some exquisite straight drives and pulls.

Ponting passed his 50 off 65 balls then reached three figures off 163 deliveries in 200 minutes, equaling Steve Waugh's record for the most test hundreds by an Australian.

The only players to have scored more are Indians Sachin Tendulkar (35) and Sunil Gavaskar (34) and West Indian Brian Lara (34) and at just 31 years of age Ponting looks destined to pass them all if he maintains his current form.

Under pressure

Langer, under pressure to retain his place in the team ahead of Phil Jaques, laid the foundations for Australia's imposing total when he smashed two boundaries in the first over and raced to his half-century off 66 balls.

Flintoff, wearing a black armband to mourn the death of his wife's grandfather, briefly put the brakes on the scoring when he removed Hayden with the total on 79, caught by Paul Collingwood at second slip.

He also dismissed Langer after lunch when the batsman drove the ball straight to Pietersen at cover-point. Pietersen, who put down six chances in the last Ashes series, held on this time.

Martyn had looked in great touch and on his way to a big score when he nicked a catch to Collingwood at slip off Giles with the total on 198.

But his dismissal was little relief for England as the left-handed Hussey joined in the run-feast.

Encouragement

Ponting said that when Harmison began the match with a skewed wide to Justin Langer, the ball zinging through to Flintoff at second slip, to the amusement of the capacity crowd, it gave Australia immediate encouragement.

"After the first ball went to second slip everyone had a bit more of a lift about us because that meant the English might have been a little nervous," Ponting said.

"Our openers really took advantage of anything that was loose early on and got us off to a great start and then I got in against a not very new ball and the wicket was good, so it was nice to spend a long time out there.

"It's a good start for us all after a long time and we're looking forward to pushing home that advantage tomorrow."

England spinner Ashley Giles, speaking about Harmison, said: "I know he was very nervous, you could see that in him and I could feel that in myself ... he said the ball slipped and that's as much as I know really."

He said Harmison, who had complained of a strained side before the last lead-up match in Adelaide, was not injured and attributed his removal from the attack to Flintoff's tactics.

Giles said the whole England squad were jittery as they mounted their Ashes defense.

"We were all pretty tense, the bus was a quiet place this morning," he said.

"We'd all been there before, first day of an Ashes series, you can't really prepare that well, you know you're going to be nervous and you've got to get yourself back into it."


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Ponting equaled Steve Waugh's record for most test centuries by an Australian.

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