Ian Bell hit his third hundred in as many Tests against Australia but three late wickets from Steve Smith reduced England to 289-7 at stumps on day one at Lord's.
Smith waited until the 77th over of the second Ashes Test to get his hands on the ball but then removed Bell, Jonathan Bairstow and Matt Prior with his leg-spin to revive the tourists in the evening session.
Bell's 109 had led England out of early trouble at 28-3, the Warwickshire right-hander shared stands worth 99 with Jonathan Trott (58) and 144 alongside Bairstow (67).
With the sun beating down and nothing untoward in the pitch, England looked well placed on 271-4 to push on in the final hour of the day with the second new ball looming.
But Smith found Bell's outside edge in his first over with a perfectly-pitched leg-spinner and soon added the bonus scalp of Bairstow, caught-and-bowled from a full toss.
Those wickets convinced Australia captain Michael Clarke to stick with the old ball and Smith struck again, Prior (6) edging behind from a front-of-the-hand variation.
James Anderson (4no) came in as nightwatchman and survived through to the close alongside Tim Bresnan (7no), while Smith finished with 3-18 from his six-over spell.
England lost three wickets in the first half-hour after choosing to bat as Ryan Harris made an instant impact on his recall to Australia's side in place of Mitchell Starc.
The surprise introduction of Shane Watson in the fifth over prompted three wickets in the space of 10 deliveries.
Watson, whose reportedly strained relationship with Clarke again made headlines during the build-up to the match, came on after James Pattinson struggled to cope with the Lord's slope in his first two overs.
And the move paid off as Watson - who took 5-40 against Pakistan at Lord's in 2010 - pinned a tentative Alastair Cook (12) lbw on the crease with his second ball.
Harris immediately followed up with the wickets of Joe Root and Kevin Pietersen.
Root (6) reviewed an lbw verdict but, while 'Hotspot' revealed contact with the bat, there was no compelling evidence that it had taken place before ball hit pad.
Pietersen got off the mark with a thick inside edge for two runs but was on his way to the final delivery of Harris' over, wicketkeeper Brad Haddin taking the catch from a thin edge.
Bell, who also made 109 in the series opener at Trent Bridge last week, steadied the innings with Trott either side of lunch.
Trott was the only wicket in the afternoon session, picking out Usman Khawaja at deep square-leg from a Harris (3-43) short ball.
Bairstow, on 21, was reprieved just before tea when he was bowled middle stump by Peter Siddle (0-53). The Yorkshire batsman was called back when the third umpire spotted Siddle had overstepped.
Bell advanced to his 19th Test hundred, from 203 balls and including 14 fours, before Smith's unexpected intervention ruined England's day.
England made one change to the starting XI on duty during the 14-run victory in the series opener, Bresnan replacing Steven Finn as the third seamer.
Australia brought in Harris and Khawaja, who will get his chance at Ed Cowan's expense in the No.3 spot later in the game.
Play started 15 minutes later than usual so the Queen could be introduced to the players on the outfield.