A disciplined England attack shrugged off the challenge of a bland Adelaide Oval wicket to limit Australia to 273-5 and leave the second Ashes test delicately poised after the opening day on Thursday.
Trailing 1-0 in the five-test series, England could do little about the coin-toss, but will rue some poor fielding late in the day, with three dropped catches letting Australia off the hook. Australia captain Michael Clarke was dropped twice in the final session and staggered to 48 not out at stumps, with Brad Haddin at the other end on seven.
Blessed to bat first on a gentle Adelaide Oval wicket, Australia failed to cash in with four of their five batsmen throwing away their wickets after making promising starts. George Bailey became the third Australian batsman to score a half-century in the final hour's play but smacked a short Stuart Broad delivery to backward square leg where Graeme Swann leapt into the air to bring down a fine catch. Bailey's 53, which included three sixes, followed a 51 from Shane Watson and a 72 from opener Chris Rogers.
The England selectors' decision to pick a second spinner was validated as Swann and the recalled Monty Panesar gleaned some encouraging turn from a flat deck that offered little for seamers Stuart Broad and James Anderson. Captain Alastair Cook would have been heartened by his bowlers' discipline in the conditions, but may rue the loss of a second straight toss with the wicket likely to break up later in the match.
He would certainly have bemoaned the dropped catches that would have seen both Clarke and Bailey trudge back to the dressing room and expose Australia's tail. Panesar spilled a knee-high chance off his own bowling in the seventh over after lunch, granting Bailey a life on 10. Clarke was then dropped on 18, with a diving Joe Root unable to bring down a flick to mid-wicket from the Australian captain off Swann. He was put down again by Michael Carberry at backward point off the bowling of Panesar when he had reached 43.
England's task could have been yet steeper, however, with Australia having cruised to 155-1 midway through the second session before Watson underlined his habit of failing to convert starts by spooning a catch back to bowler James Anderson. That ended a 121-run partnership with Rogers and sparked a collapse as Australia lost three wickets for 19 runs and were reduced to 174-4 at tea. Rogers was caught behind for 72 the next over after Watson's departure and Panesar bowled all-rounder Steven Smith for six to prompt an early tea-break.
The quick wickets breathed life into a meandering contest which had seen the fast bowlers enjoying little reward from the new drop-in pitch. Barring seamer Stuart Broad's removal of David Warner for 29, when the opener gave up a simple catch to Carberry at point in the morning, England were made to work hard for their wickets. New Zealand-born all-rounder Ben Stokes, who was handed his first cap by former England captain Andrew Strauss before the toss, and finished with 0-26 off his eight overs. England brought Root up the order to replace Jonathan Trott at number three after the South Africa-born batsman left the tour this week to deal with a stress-related illness.