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Ponting and Langer post half-centuries

Written by: Staff
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BRISBANE, Nov 23 (Reuters) Ricky Ponting and Justin Langer cracked half-centuries to help Australia seize the initiative on the first day of the opening Ashes test today.

Langer blazed to 82 before throwing his wicket away within sight of a hundred and a focused Ponting reached 63 not out to steer his side to 217 for three at tea.

England skipper Andrew Flintoff dismissed both Australian openers, removing Matthew Hayden for 21 before lunch then Langer in the afternoon. Left-arm spinner Ashley Giles got rid of Damien Martyn for 29, leaving Mike Hussey unbeaten on 10 at tea.

England's three main pace bowlers failed to threaten the Australians after they won the toss and elected to bat on a Gabba pitch that offered early encouragement to the seamers before starting to flatten out.

Steve Harmison conceded 52 runs from 12 overs after starting the series with a horrendous wide that went straight to Flintoff at second slip, while James Anderson went for 55 off 11 and Matthew Hoggard leaked 42 from nine.

The Australians signalled their intention to attack from the outset when Langer hit two boundaries off Harmison's first over then raced to his 50 off 66 balls to get his team off to a flying start.

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 for 21 with the total on 79, caught by Paul Collingwood at second slip.

But Langer, who was under pressure to retain his place in the team ahead of Phil Jaques, kept the scoreboard ticking along at a healthy rate until he fell after lunch, hitting a catch straight to Kevin Pietersen at cover-point.

NO MISTAKE Pietersen, who dropped six catches in the last Ashes series, made no mistake this time but later left the field after appearing to twist his knee.

Ponting took 11 balls to get off the mark but opened his account when he viciously pulled a Harmison bouncer to the boundary then punched the next ball through the covers to force the Durham speedster out of the attack.

The Australian skipper, recently named the ICC's player of the year for 2006, reached his half-century off 65 balls but was content to occupy the crease for the last hour before tea when Martyn departed.

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.

REUTERS AY VV1120

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