BRISBANE: Pat Cummins picked up two vital wickets to restore some confidence in Australia's pace trio after a pair of unheralded batsmen grinded through most of the opening day of the Ashes series to help England reach 196-4 at stumps.
James Vince (83) and Mark Stoneman (53) combined defiantly in their first experience of Ashes cricket to blunt the much-hyped pace attack, each posting their highest test scores in a 125-run second-wicket stand.
Cummins (2-59) bowled Stoneman in the last over of a middle session delayed for more than hour by rain. He came back in the evening session — after Nathan Lyon had brilliantly run out Vince — to trap England skipper Joe Root (15) lbw, getting a not-out decision overturned, and ensuring the day swung back in Australia's favor.
At stumps, Dawan Malan was unbeaten on 28 and Moeen Ali was on 13 when bad light stopped play in the 81st over, three balls after Australia took the new ball and one after Mitchell Starc had a review of an lbw decision rejected.
The day started according to the Australia's pre-series script, with Starc striking in the third over to have former England captain Alastair Cook (2) caught at first slip with the total at two.
That exposed a left-right second-wicket pair — some Australian critics openly wondered if Vince and Stoneman were ready for the Ashes environment — with a combined 10 previous test caps to a potentially hostile initiation.
But they weathered the new ball with reasonable comfort, preventing Australia from capitalizing on the early breakthrough.
Vince rarely played a loose stroke in four hours and 170 balls. He did get a reprieve on 68, though, when recalled wicketkeeper Tim Paine put down a routine chance off Lyon's bowling late in the middle session.
Stoneman improved by one on his previous high test score before Cummins beat him with a ball that jagged back off the seam to collect his first test wicket on Australian soil.
The banter and bluster from the Australians leading up to the Gabba test centered on their 5-0 sweep here the last time England toured in 2013-14, when a local pace trio spearheaded by Mitchell Johnson intimidated the batsmen and set the foundation for a series domination.
Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Cummins toiled in slightly damp conditions before and after a rain-delay on a wicket yet to produce the kind of extra bounce that the Brisbane venue is famous for.
The Australian quicks were under the spotlight from the first ball after losing the toss at the Gabba, where they're all playing their first Ashes match on home soil and where the Australians haven't lost a test since 1988.
The early points went to the batsmen. In the 11th over, Hazlewood fielded off his own bowling and hurled the ball back toward the stumps. Vince responded by stroking two subsequent deliveries for boundaries. Hazlewood, usually the most consistent of the quicks with his persistent line and length, struggled with his rhythm and had 0-51 from 18 overs.
Lyon (0-40) caused the most difficulties for the batsmen after joining the attack in the 18th over and getting his first ball to turn sharply, but didn't get a wicket. He had unsuccessful appeals before the regulation caught-behind chance was put down.
His athletic run out, though — picking up a half-volley on the run from cover and throwing down the stumps at the non-striker's end to catch Vince well out of his ground — was a significant momentum turner.
England holds the Ashes after winning the 2015 series 3-2 at home, regaining the urn after its lopsided loss in Australia last time.