Sydney: Usman Khawaja's initial eight balls in international cricket provided some of the rare flourishes on Monday in the fifth Ashes Test before he was out for 37 on the last ball of a gloomy, rain-shortened opening day when Australia's batsmen struggled again to get on top of England.
With no chance of regaining the Ashes but hopeful of levelling the series, stand-in captain Michael Clarke won the toss and elected to bat despite overcast conditions tipped to favour the England seamers. After 59 overs and breaks for bad light and rain, the new-look Australian line-up was 134-4 when play was stopped.
Mike Hussey, Australia's leading batsman in the series, was unbeaten on 12.
All of the top order, with the exception of Clarke, got starts but failed to capitalize.
Tim Bresnan picked up the wickets of Shane Watson (45) and Clarke (4) and returned with figures of 2-47 for England, while Chris Tremlett and spinner Graeme Swann took a wicket each.
Khawaja, the first muslim to play Test cricket for Australia, got off the mark with a two and a pulled boundary from Tremlett on his first two deliveries — the first two after the lunch interval. He raced to 15 from eight balls but slowed his scoring rate as he settled in, eventually facing 95 balls in two hours. The 24-year-old left-hander's five boundaries contained a perfectly timed chip off behind square leg — immediately after he got an edge which just failed to carry to second slip — and a risky glance through the cordon.
Khawaja, the leading scorer in the domestic competition this season and on the fringe of Test selection for six months, comes into the international arena as the former top-ranked Australian team casts wider than ever for replacements to fill the void created by the retirements of international veterans in recent seasons. He is the first batsman to debut at No 3 since 1993, largely due to regular skipper Ricky Ponting's long lock on the position.
Clarke, in his first Test as Australia captain after Ponting was sidelined with a broken finger, is desperate to level the series at 2-2 in the last Test and urged his lineup to show some old-school fight after a capitulation in Melbourne last week allowed England to take a 2-1 series lead — enough to ensure it retained the Ashes.
Openers Hughes and Watson played with discipline and uncharacteristic restraint, leaving as many balls as they played and nudging the score along to 55 in 29 overs before Tremlett ended the stand with the last ball before lunch.
The England attack tied down the Australians for the entire first session, and although Tremlett troubled both openers, the bowlers weren't rewarded until the lanky paceman tempted Hughes with a shorter ball and the 22-year-old left-hander feathered a head-height catch to Paul Collingwood at third slip.
Watson batted for three hours, facing 127 balls, before edging a straightforward catch to England captain Andrew Strauss at first slip off Bresnan to make the total 105 for two. All his five boundaries came after lunch in a 50-run second-wicket stand with Khawaja.
The second session was played in dull, artificial light and featured an eight-minute suspension due to the overcast conditions, with storms threatening until tea was taken early due to rain.
More than an hour of play was lost before the evening session resumed. Clarke failed to add to his pre-interval score before guiding an attempted cut straight to Jimmy Anderson at gully with the total at 113.
Khawaja and Hussey added 21 in good time before the rookie No 3 attempted to sweep Swann in the first over of the spinner's new spell and miscued a catch to Trott at square-leg. Rain started tumbling immediately and players immediately left the field, with England in a good position to win its first Test series on Australian soil since 1987.