| Michael Vaughan drops Matthew Hayden on the first day of the Ashes Test series in Brisbane. (Reuters)
Brisbane: Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting scored centuries and shared a record 272-run partnership as Australia destroyed England’s bowlers on the opening day of the first Ashes Test on Thursday.
Hayden made 186 not out and Ponting was dismissed for 123 as the Australians amassed a daunting 364 for two that exposed the enormous gulf between the teams.
England ruined any chance they had of restricting the Australians with an inept fielding display that featured three dropped catches, a missed run-out, overthrows and dozens of misfields.
But their biggest blow came just after lunch when their promising young fast bowler Simon Jones slipped and badly injured his knee in an attempt to save a four. He was later ruled out of the entire tour.
The 23-year-old was stretchered off in agony and taken to hospital where scans later revealed the worst. “He has been diagnosed with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament,” an England team spokesman said.
“It will require a complete reconstruction and will rule him out of cricket for at least six months.”
England, given little hope of winning the series before a ball had been bowled, were soon living up to those low expectations.
Michael Vaughan missed a golden opportunity to run out Hayden when he was on 15, then dropped him on 136 with a straightforward catch. Matthew Hoggard also dropped Hayden when he was on 102 and 12th man Robert Key spilt a difficult chance when the big left-handed opener was on 149.
The unlucky Jones did hold a catch from Hayden when he was on 40 but the batsman was reprieved after the Welshman fell over the boundary rope in the process.
Jones threw the ball back in the field before tumbling over the line and appealed for the catch but the television umpire, Simon Taufel, ruled that he did not have complete control.
Hayden, 31, made the most of his let-offs to post his 10th Test century and his first against England.
Scoring freely to every part of the ground, he reached his hundred before tea when he drove a full toss from left-arm spinner Ashley Giles for four. Despite showing signs of tiredness, he managed to survive to bat through the day, facing 255 balls and hitting 23 fours and two sixes.
He and Ponting came together after Hayden’s opening partner Justin Langer departed for 32 with the total on 67, caught by wicketkeeper Alec Stewart off Jones, who was England’s most threatening bowler.
They had given Australia a flying start after Nasser Hussain had won the toss and strangely sent the home side in on a perfect batting wicket.
With Hayden living on the edge, Ponting was content to play a more cautious role in the initial stages of his innings before suddenly exploding with two successive sixes off Giles to bring up his 50.
Shortly after tea, Ponting brought up his 13th Test hundred and his third against England with a neat flick through mid-wicket off allrounder Craig White that also brought up the 200 partnership with Hayden.
They went on to establish a new second wicket partnership for an Ashes Test in Australia, breaking the previous mark of 220 set by Ian Redpath and Greg Chappell in Sydney in 1975.
Soon after, Ponting was unluckily bowled by Giles with a ball that flicked his leg and bounced back onto the stumps.
Damien Martyn joined Hayden, reaching nine not out in a chanceless 25-run stand with Hayden, before the close of play.
Poor show: Fletcher
England coach Duncan Fletcher said his team only had themselves to blame for their terrible performance Thursday.
Fletcher defended his team’s decision to give Australia first use of a perfect batting wicket but said there were no excuses for England’s dismal performance in the field.
“We didn’t play good cricket today,” Fletcher said. “You can’t afford to drop catches out here on good wickets. When batters give opportunities, you have to make sure you make those opportunities.”
“Our fielding wasn’t too good,” Fletcher admitted. “The first session before lunch was very important, especially if your captain wins the toss and puts the side in. You must maintain your discipline.
“We’ve had a sensational day,” said Ponting. “We had a lot of luck but it was a perfect day as far as Australia was concerned.”