BRISBANE, Australia: Pat Cummins picked up two vital wickets to restore some confidence in Australia's pace trio after unheralded batsmen grinded through the opening day of the Ashes series to help England reach 196-4 at stumps on Thursday.
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, claiming his first test wicket on Australian soil. He came back in the evening session — after Nathan Lyon brilliantly run out Vince — to trap England skipper Joe Root (15) lbw, getting a not-out decision overturned, and ensuring the day was evenly poised.
At stumps, Dawan Malan was unbeaten on 28 and Moeen Ali 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.
Cummins said the wicket of Root was "pretty much the dream wicket — one of the most satisfying I've ever got."
"To set him up with a couple of overs of outswing, then try to bowl one big inswinger — probably only comes off one-in-100 times, but when it does it's pretty special," Cummins said. "Fortunately, it was their captain, so I couldn't be happier with that."
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 2.
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 highest test score before Cummins beat him with a ball that jagged back off the seam.
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.
Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Cummins toiled on a slightly soft pitch before and after a rain-delay, diminishing the pace or extra bounce that the Brisbane venue is famous for.
The Australia 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 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. Cummins said it was the play of the day, and even Vince praised Lyon's fielding effort.
"It's disappointing obviously — you always want more," runs, said Vince, who predicted England could reach 400 if they got away to a fast start on Friday. "It would have been nice to be there at the end but stuff like that happens in cricket."
England holds the Ashes after winning the 2015 series 3-2 at home.