Josh Hazlewood was hammered for 27 runs in his first over as Essex reached 2-81 at lunch on day four of Australia’s final Ashes tune-up.
The visitors added nine runs to their overnight score in Chelmsford, setting the hosts a victory target of 370 on Saturday.
Jesse Ryder was promoted to opener and showed his side had every intention of reeling it in, despite having two players unable to bat due to injuries.
Hazlewood, whose importance to Australia during the Ashes has been amplified by Ryan Harris’ retirement, copped the brunt of the Ryder storm.
The 24-year-old started with a dot ball but that was followed by a combination of clean hitting and skied edges as Ryder teed off at every opportunity.
It was on again in Hazlewood’s second over, when Ryder started with another boundary.
Hazlewood and his teammates were certain the New Zealand slugger was out edging in the same over but he remained rooted to the crease and the umpire had no interest in the appeal.
Ryder’s 37-run blitz ended when his middle stump was uprooted by Mitchell Starc, who continued to impress with the Dukes ball.
Hazlewood picked up the first wicket of his maiden Ashes tour, trapping opener Jaik Mickleburgh lbw for four.
There were a few more confident lbw appeals and four tidy overs from Shane Watson but Ryan ten Doeschate and Ravi Bopara made it to the meal break unharmed.
Pat Cummins will join Australia’s Ashes squad in Cardiff as a replacement for Harris but the tourists are set to name an unchanged pace attack when the series starts on Wednesday.
Hazlewood and Starc both starred in Australia’s recent 2-0 Test series win over the West Indies.
Mitchell Johnson, who was rested from the clash with Essex, lorded over England in the 2013-14 series and impressed in last week’s tour game against Kent.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan noted Harris’ omission was a “massive blow” for the tourists.
“Ryan Harris IMO was Australia’s most dangerous threat in English conditions,” Vaughan posted on Twitter.