Stuart Broad continued his happy hunting of David Warner on a rain-affected first day of the fourth Ashes Test, with a pair of late breakthroughs lifting English spirits.
Desperate to conjure a face-saving comeback at the Sydney Cricket Ground after losing the urn following three one-sided matches, the tourists fought hard for an even position on a day where the real battle was against the elements.
Broad marked his recall to the side by dismissing old rival Warner for the 13th time in between showers, more than any other bowler.
But Australia were on the verge of controlling matters once again, reaching an impressive 111 for one before England rallied late on.
James Anderson forced the issue, ending Marcus Harris’ diligent stay, before Mark Wood’s pace powered through the defences of the world’s number one batter Marnus Labuschagne to make it 126 for three at stumps.
Just 46.5 overs had been possible in the opening stanza of the New Year Test, but for the first time in the series England left the field with a genuine foothold in the game.
England lost a rain-delayed toss but, with a scattering of live grass on the pitch, there were signs of encouragement for the reunited duo of James Anderson and Broad.
The first ball of the innings gave England further cause for optimism, Anderson’s opening delivery leaping off a good length and rapping Warner on the glove. Just for a second it was tempting to think Pat Cummins had delivered his top order into a booby trap.
That proved something of a red herring, though, with no further unnatural bounce to aid Anderson’s swing and Broad unable to generate anything untoward in his initial burst.
Both he and Ben Stokes had been described by assistant coach Graham Thorpe as ‘caged tigers’ coming into the match, but the 35-year-old took a while to bare his teeth.
Midway through the fifth over the skies opened again, with Warner pocketing one sweet cover drive before the break. The weather relented only long enough for England to squeeze in eight overs before lunch, with Australia again unscathed.
Anderson made life difficult for the openers when he went round the wicket but Warner was warming to the task, cracking another extra-cover drive and then pushing the seamer straight back down the ground for four more.
Harris was quieter until he warmed up to a rare short ball from Broad with a powerful pull, leaving the score at 30 without loss as the next batch of rain intervened. The stoppages did not help the sense of spectacle, with the game effectively resetting for a third time.
Warner’s previous rhythm was interrupted and he foreshadowed his dismissal by fencing at Stokes. The ball gave Zak Crawley a hint of a chance but snuck past him for four.
That left Broad with another chance to claim his favourite victim and it was a case of deja-vu for the left-hander. The pair had been seen in conversation before the start of play, both well aware of their history. Warner has done plenty of celebrating at England’s expense in recent weeks, but will never forget being dismissed seven times by Broad in the 2019 series.
Here, he pushing with hard hands pinged a firm chance to second slip on 30 and watched as Crawley closed his hands around it.
Had Warner lasted just four more balls, he would have made the safety of the next weather interruption. Instead, the sides broke up at 56 for one leaving England something to carry back with them.
It took more than two hours for conditions to clear and, barring an intriguing early tussle between Broad and Labuschagne which saw an edge, a flick for four and an lbw appeal in the space of three deliveries, Australia were on top.
Harris was doing a good job of eating up time, with Stokes looking short on energy and the ball going dead. England took 37 overs before changing the pace in the form of Jack Leach, but he began with defensive lines that seemed to reflect English caution.
In the end it took Anderson to change the script, shaping one across Harris on 38 and taking a low edge which Root swallowed at first slip. The arrival of hometown favourite Steve Smith brought out a hunch in Root, who immediately brought his quickest bowler back into the attack.
But, for the second innings in a row, it was Labuschagne who was unsettled by the speed. Late to get his bat down to one that held its line outside off stump he nicked through to Jos Buttler, a vital double strike for a side in need of inspiration.
They were denied the possibility of another 40 minutes at the middle order by the familiar sight of dark clouds overhead but will resume on the second morning in good heart.