An intriguing battle. One question that's already been answered is of the overall quality of the cricket and the skills being executed. It will not match 2005 or probably come close. It will be quite an ugly spectacle at times. Points to note are that this already looks certainly like the most innocuous Australian Ashes bowling attack seen in my lifetime, none of whom have been close to bowling a ball in England previously, and who lack both the accuracy and menace of teams gone by. Nathan Hauritz must rate as one of the most unthreatening "spin" bowlers ever to play for the urn. Despite being treated generally with respect by an uncertain England he still went for 3.5 an over with a bonus wicket gifted which we'll address later.
The overall massively defensive strategies employed by Ponting couldn't go unnoticed. He let most of the middle session drift for long periods with genuinely toothless slow bowling. In terms of field placings, from as early as the first session there were sweepers posted back on both sides of the field, blatantly for bad bowling in some cases, i.e. deep point and deep mid wicket. Even with a feisty Flintoff brand new to the crease there were as many as 3 (!) men back on the leg side boundary. As a result England milked easy singles throughout the day, there were few maidens and consequently one could sense very little pressure ever building on the batsmen. This negative mindset is unfathomable and dare I say un-Australian and will hardly inspire confidence in the bowlers, nor spare Ponting from brickbats should his team lose. To make matters worse when Hilfenhaus started getting the ball to swing nicely away Ponting refused to give him more than 1 slip, and no gully. No surprises then when Collingwood edged it directly through the vacant area :)
The other side to the story is the ludicrous dismissal strokes played by the number 3 and 4 batsmen, supposedly the premier slots in any side. While Bopara's looked naive in the extreme, especially for one groomed on a diet of Twenty20 cricket with its constant slower balls, Pietersen's was utterly brainless and irresponsible, and even looked stubborn in his refusal to bail out of the sweep stroke to the bowler's widest ball of the day. While England did well to play sensibly in the Pietersen-Collingwood partnership and later counterattack through Prior and Flintoff, they will need to play more ruthlessly, and even more smartly to avoid such loose strokes. Even Cook and Collingwood were found wanting through poor judgement.
Overall England are in the better position batting first after boldly selecting 2 spinners and with runs now on the board. As I said earlier, there are runs to be had in this tail and I would not be surprised if they notch 450. Australia have it all to do to win this match, and it will be interesting to see how their recent frailty against spin shows up tomorrow.