Josh Hazlewood snared two victims to leave England wobbling at 33 for two at stumps, clinging to a seven-run lead, after skipper Steve Smith inspired Australia with a brilliant, unbeaten 141 at the Gabba.
Opener Mark Stoneman, on 19 not out, and Joe Root on five survived a furious pace examination in the final overs as the pitch grew appreciably quicker.
With Australia teetering at 76 for four on day two and their nearly 30-year unbeaten record at the Gabba seemingly in peril, Smith dragged his side back from the brink over eight-and-a-half hours of steely application.
By the time tail-ender Nathan Lyon edged to Alastair Cook in the slips, marking the end of Australia's innings of 328, Smith strode off to a hero's ovation, having pushed his side 26 runs in front of England's first innings 302.
Team mates inspired and bounding on to the field, Smith's pacemen hit the deck hard and soon had Cook out cheaply for a second time in the test.
Caught behind for two by a peach of a delivery from Mitchell Starc in the first innings, Cook was brought down by the paceman again.
He tried to hook a short ball from Josh Hazlewood away to safety but instead found Starc in the deep, the fielder scrambling to take a fine low catch.
Strangely subdued in the first innings, Hazlewood was now breathing fire and he had an uneasy James Vince out for two with a rearing delivery that sent an edge ballooning to Smith in the slips.
Starc then struck Root in the helmet with a venomous delivery and took turns with Cummins to pepper Stoneman with short balls.
Cummins had earlier provided fine support to Smith with a knock of 42 in a 66-run partnership, surviving for all but 10 minutes of the middle session until he was finally caught at slip off all-rounder Chris Woakes.
Smith, who began the day on 64, moved slowly but purposefully towards his century and soaked up eight successive dot balls when on 97 before paceman Stuart Broad finally gave him an opening.
The skipper pounced on a fuller, wide delivery, smashing a drive past mid-off for four, triggering a huge roar from the sell-out crowd.
Having completed his sixth Ashes ton, Smith tore off his helmet, raised his arms in triumph and beat his chest twice in a fired-up celebration, one of the most ardent of his 21 test hundreds.
It helped swing the match back into balance after England's veteran pacemen had dominated the morning.
A fired-up Broad had captured two wickets and broken a 99-run stand between Smith and Shaun Marsh, with fellow seamer James Anderson chipping in with another.
The Australian number six lasted five overs in the morning before being dismissed softly for 51, spooning a slower delivery from Broad straight to Anderson at mid-off.
Tim Paine, who replaced Matthew Wade in part due to his better form with the bat, managed 13 before falling to Anderson with the fourth delivery of the new ball.
Starc smashed Broad over the long-off rope for six but the England paceman turned the tables on his fellow quick two balls later with a caught and bowled.
First Published: November 25, 2017, 1:45 PM IST