Joe Root dug England out after his team lost three wickets before lunch as Australia seized the early initiative on day one of the first Investec Test in Cardiff.
Josh Hazlewood made short work of his fellow Ashes newcomer Adam Lyth; Nathan Lyon then did likewise with Alastair Cook, and Ian Bell's slump continued when Mitchell Starc found telling swing in his second spell.
But after choosing to bat on a cloudy morning, and following an initial 15-minute delay for a passing shower, Gary Ballance and counter-attacking Joe Root's all-Yorkshire alliance helped to close out a tough first session on 88 for three.
Their county team-mate Lyth (six) was England's first departure.
He had tucked Hazlewood's fourth delivery off his pads for four - but trying to repeat the dose two balls later, instead got a leading edge low for a sharp catch by David Warner at gully.
There were decidedly mixed signals from the pitch in the opening exchanges, two balls from Starc trickling through on the second bounce to the wicketkeeper and then - after two maidens from one left-armer with the new ball, his surprisingly early replacement Mitchell Johnson getting alarming lift to hit number three Ballance on the chest.
At the other end, Cook (20) pulled Hazlewood for four and added another boundary with a leg-glance at the start of the same bowler's next over.
But his evident attempt to take the attack to Lyon came to nought when he was undone by a little extra bounce from the off-spinner to be caught-behind.
Bell made only a single, taking his sorry recent sequence to 56 runs in nine Test innings when he missed Starc's full-length swing to be lbw.
Root (33 not out) then overcame a scratchy start, a faint inside-edge on Starc's first delivery to him preventing lbw and then dropped second ball by diving wicketkeeper Brad Haddin.
But he was soon more convincing, with an off-drive and cut for two boundaries in one over from his former county colleague Starc, as he and Ballance (28 not out) scrambled a foothold.