Sydney:The hard work of Australia's top order was beginning to unravel at the SCG as both sides sparred for the ascendency on a truncated opening day of the final Ashes Test. The hosts had slipped to 4 for 134 when further rain ended play, with Usman Khawaja falling to the final ball before the weather closed in having made 37 in a promising start to his Test career.
England couldn't quite match the intensity of their opening day in Melbourne, but chipped away once the opening partnership was broken in the final over before lunch when Phil Hughes edged to third slip. Shane Watson went for another unfulfilled innings when he nicked Tim Bresnan and Michael Clarke's first innings as Australia's 43rd Test captain continued his poor run when he cut to gully.
Clarke had been greeted by a heady mixture of boos and cheers, the former in the majority, and for a short while there was a glimpse into Australia's likely future with the captain alongside the new No. 3. Khawaja began his Test career by racing to 15 off eight balls as he rode on the emotion of the occasion before reigning himself in with some solid defence. However, with another shower moments away, he top edged a sweep against Graeme Swann which looped to square leg.
It was clear from the start that Clarke was feeling the nerves of his first real day in the top job. He watched pensively from the dressing room as Australia got off the mark and he may secretly have wished not to have needed to make a decision at the toss. Batting first is usually the way forward in Sydney, but a muggy, overcast morning and a tinge of green on the pitch meant England's quicks weren't disappointed to have first crack at a top order they have largely dominated during the series.
However, whereas they regularly found the edge in Melbourne here the ball beat the bat frequently, especially in the first hour, without getting reward. Chris Tremlett caused the most problems during a probing first spell where he troubled Watson and Hughes with extra bounce.
James Anderson also found swing to have a couple of stifled lbw shouts although he was troubled by his take-off area, almost turning his ankle with his second ball, and also gained a warning for his follow through from Billy Bowden. His first spell ended with figures of 5-0-5-0 and after 12 overs Australia had 17 runs, but the value of not losing early wickets was far greater than what the scoreboard showed.
The determination started to pay off as Hughes tucked into Bresnan's second over with consecutive boundaries then cut Swann's second ball to bring up Australia's fifty. Watson gave a good lesson in leaving on length as Tremlett's deliveries kept sailing over the stumps, but Hughes wasn't equal to the challenge when he pushed outside off and offered a simple chance to third slip.
It meant Khawaja had 40 minutes to ponder his first ball in Tests, but he calmly clipped his opening delivery from Tremlett through the leg side for two then cracked away a bristling pull next ball. He was later given another gift on leg stump which was flicked away and had the skill to play with soft hands so when he twice edged the ball it fell short of second slip.
Either side of a needless stoppage for bad light - the floodlights hadn't been turned on - Khawaja appeared to have plenty of time to play his shots, guiding Tremlett down to third man, and was confident to come onto the front foot in defence. Watson, after hitting his first boundary from his 89th ball, was also starting to find rhythm.
However, with another half-century looming Watson played forward to Bresnan and the ball shaped away a touch to find the edge and was well taken at first slip. He slammed his bat in frustration before dragging himself off the pitch.
Clarke began with a sweet cover drive first ball, but rain then forced an early tea and when play resumed he tried to cut a ball that cramped him for room and gave Anderson a catch at gully. A captain's job is much tougher when he isn't making runs and it has been Clarke's poor return in this series which has clouded his future as the long-term leader.
Mike Hussey's early scoring shots were mainly down to third man as he kept the slips interested on a surface juiced up after being covered. But it wasn't seam or swing that ended Khawaja's two-hour stay when he went to sweep the final ball of Swann's first over back. However, given the problems facing Australia, the first sight of Khawaja in a baggy green was a rare piece of promising news.