Michael Clarke was out for a golden duck as Australia battled with the bat on day one of their final Ashes tune-up.
David Warner scored 94 as the tourists reached 5-275 at tea on Wednesday.
Essex captain Ravi Bopara invited Clarke to bat at the toss in Chelmsford.
It was a generous gesture to the touring side, not a sign of any demons in the pitch.
“We’ll have a bat … but after Australia have a bat,” Bopara joked at the toss, noting he couldn’t remember a better wicket at the venue in some time.
When Jesse Ryder was handed the new ball to send down some dibbly-dobblers, the scene was set for the visitors to post a big score.
However, nobody apart from Warner looked truly comfortable in what the locals termed stifling heat – 32C.
Warner was caught at gully in the penultimate over before lunch, having struck 15 boundaries.
It was a morning to forget for Clarke and Chris Rogers.
Rogers was caught behind for 21, but clearly thought he didn’t hit it.
Clarke batted at No.3 in the absence of Steve Smith, but clipped the first ball he faced straight to Ryan ten Doeschate at leg gully.
Shane Watson was given a chance on 10 when Thomas Moore dropped a caught-and-bowled chance.
Watson looked in good touch as he raced to 50 in 46 balls – belting one ball over the square-leg fence.
But just as the allrounder looked set, he reached at a wide delivery from Ryan ten Doeschate and played on for 52 off 50.
Adam Voges was then run out on 49 after a mix-up with Mitch Marsh.
Marsh was 44 not out at tea, while Peter Nevill was six.
Marsh will put further pressure on Watson with another century, having scored 101 against Kent in Canterbury last week.
Coach Darren Lehmann admitted the allrounder selection battle was “tight” after that tour game.
It is the major selection quandary facing Lehmann and on-duty selector Rod Marsh before the Ashes starts on Wednesday.
Ryan Harris was a late withdrawal from the four-day clash with Essex, all but confirming he will not face England in Cardiff.
Harris has been sent for scans on his knee, having pulled up sore after playing against Kent.