DESPITE grumblings from some quarters, the Ashes opener is going like a dream for England after three engrossing days of quality Test cricket.

You can find fault with anything if you look hard enough and that was always going to be the case once the Swalec Stadium got the nod with Birmingham the most northern Test destination for the Australians.

Many of the gripes were as premeditated as a Tillakaratne Dilshan scoop – on day one there were too many anthems and there was needless pre-match pomp, the ground’s too small, traffic is manic and, chiefly, the pitch is rubbish.

Yes, the wicket is a touch slow but it hasn’t led to a dour encounter, quite the opposite.

The 2009 game is remembered for its classic finale but there was some pretty tedious, one-sided sport leading up to Monty Panesar and James Anderson’s last stand.

This time we have enjoyed three superb days of cricket in Cardiff – 30 wickets, 1,027 runs at around four per over – to leave punters heading home happy on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

And from an England point of view things are going near-perfectly with Alastair Cook and his men having two days to force a win that ensures they head back over the border to Lord’s with a lead.

After a testing start to the match in murky conditions they have played marvellous cricket and one wouldn’t like to be in Australian shoes batting the save the game on Sunday (surely 412 is beyond them?).

The tourists have more than played their part in a terrific contest – Mitchell Starc bowled beautifully and with menace – but England have responded in the pressure moments.

It was a dream morning for England with the Australians managing just 308 after resuming on 264 for five.

The hosts bowled magnificently with Mark Wood, Stuart Broad and James Anderson combining aggression with discipline to claim the last five scalps for 44 to take command.

Shane Watson (30) was a tad unlucky to go leg before to Broad, the all-rounder unsuccessfully reviewing after the ball was shown to be just clipping the top of leg stump.

There was no doubt over Nathan Lyon’s LBW dismissal after being outdone by Wood and the new ball accounted for Brad Haddin (22) after he had shown some attacking intent, the wicket-keeper taken behind by counterpart Jos Buttler after Anderson found his edge.

Mitchell Johnson (14) departed tamely by guiding Broad straight to midwicket and Anderson wrapped things up by having Starc taken in the slips for a duck.

A lead of 122 ensured the heat wasn’t quite as intense on England when they started their innings but Australia did well to apply some pressure.

Starc, with the breeze helping him from the River Taff end, produced a marvellous pre-lunch spell and snared Cook at point.

Gary Ballance gloved a Josh Hazlewood delivery early in the second session but England struck back by playing with attacking intent.

A spell of seven fours off 17 balls – four for Ian Bell, three for opener Adam Lyth – brought the crowd alive and swung the momentum just as the Aussies were buoyant.

Lyth (37) was brilliantly caught left-handed at slip by a diving Michael Clarke off Nathan Lyon but Bell and first innings centurion Joe Root batted England clear.

Bell fell for 60 when he was bowled to become Mitchell Johnson’s first wicket of the game and Root suffered the same fate on the same score when a Hazlewood delivery kept a touch low.

At 207 for five England had a commanding lead 329 and the Aussies were going to have to produce one of the biggest chases in the history of first-class cricket in Cardiff.

But the visitors came back strong at the death against careless England – Buttler (7) went when gloving an ill-advised attempted reverse sweep to Haddin off Lyon and then Ben Stokes (42) edged Starc onto his own stumps and a Broad slog off Lyon was caught superbly by Hazlewood.

However, Wood (32 not out) batted excellently alongside Moeen Ali to stretch the lead past 400 before Johnson, who copped some almighty flak from the stands, had the latter caught behind (15) and Anderson (1) was bowled by Lyon in the last over on 289.