CARDIFF, July 8 (Reuters) - Fortunes ebbed and flowed in the best tradition of Ashes cricket on Wednesday after the heady but less substantial delights of the Twenty20 World Cup last month.
Wales welcomed the first Ashes test staged on neutral territory with anthems, a warm sunny day and a pitch which could decide the destiny of the first test between England and Australia.
At the end of the opening day, honours were pretty much even with England 336 for seven after selecting two spinners and electing to bat first.
The consensus before the match, based on county games this season, was that the pitch would be slow, low and take spin.
Both captains clearly agreed after examining the wicket carefully over the past two days. England included Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, two men who turn the ball in different directions, while Australia picked off-spinner Nathan Hauritz even though his two wickets on tour had cost 260 runs.
Ricky Ponting did not call on Hauritz until the afternoon session after his pace bowlers had knocked over the England top three. Kevin Pietersen (69) and Paul Collingwood (64) responded by adding 138 for the fourth wicket and batting throughout the afternoon session.
Their dismissals after tea gave Australia the edge before England seized the initiative again with a lively partnership of 86 between Matt Prior (56) and Andrew Flintoff (37).
Late wickets to Peter Siddle restored the balance, leaving 16,000 spectators thoroughly satisfied with a fine day’s test cricket.
“It’s not too difficult to bat on, it’s slow. You really had to bide your time, it was quite nice once you got in. But the ball kept swinging today,” said Pietersen, who revealed the ball had brushed his helmet when an attempted sweep off Hauritz ended up in Simon Katich’s hands at short-leg.
”The promising thing today is that Nathan Hauritz is spinning it off the straight and we’ve got two spinners.
“Not many test wickets spin off the straight on day one. There’s a lot of dust and a lot of footholes to work with, I think tomorrow morning is a huge, huge session.”
Australia coach Tim Nielsen agreed with Pietersen’s analysis.
“It’s definitely going to get dustier and drier and break up a little. It’s been very difficult for the batting and the bowling because it’s been so slow. It’s a critical time tomorrow morning, probably for the first hour or so,” he said.
“There’s no doubt the wicket will deteriorate over the next couple of days. It’s not as simple as it looks out there.”
Both men paid tribute to the crowd and the organisation at the world’s 100th test arena after Welsh soprano Katherine Jenkins had begun the day by singing “Land of My Fathers”.
"The weather was good, the crowd was great, the facilities are fantastic and we're playing cricket. It was nice to get underway today," said Nielsen. For an interactive factbox on the Ashes series please click here
Editing by Ed Osmond; to query or comment on this story email email@example.com