England were unable to make Australia pay for Michael Clarke's decision to insert the tourists on Boxing Day as a flurry of late wickets ensured the Ashes holders assumed control of the fourth Test in Melbourne.

Clarke had won the toss once again as a world record crowd for Test cricket of over 91,000 packed into the MCG with the urn already captured, and the Australia captain provided England with an opportunity to bat first for the only time in the series.

Alastair Cook made light work of Mitchell Johnson, with the left-armer unable to find movement to go with his pace, and the leading wicket taker in the first three Tests was withdrawn from the attack after only two overs with then new ball.

Australia, however, were soon able to stem in the runs as Nathan Lyon operated at one end with Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle on rotation at the other, and the latter was able to prevail with the wicket of the England captain.

Michael Carberry and Joe Root shared 48 runs, as the former had done with Cook, before the opener was bowled by Shane Watson having reached a steadily compiled 38.

Root was also able to dig in, the Yorkshireman scoring 24, before he was caught behind by Brad Haddin off the bowling of Harris, and 106-3 represented a far from catastrophic start for England.

Kevin Pietersen and Ian Ball, a partnership of even greater importance for England now given the inexperience of the middle-order, produced a half-century stand but did offer Australia chances along the way.

The hosts grassed two catches from Pietersen's bat on his way to an unbeaten 67, while Bell was dismissed after becoming the third England batsman to reach the 20s before losing their wicket.

The second new ball presented Australia with a chance to take the momentum into the second day and they duly accepted as Johnson did for both Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow before the close.

Stokes was caught by Shane Watson while Bairstow, called up to replace wicket-keeper Matt Prior, was bowled by the moustachioed terror to leave England 226-6 at the close.

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The Ashes