James Anderson and Stuart Broad shared six wickets for 80 runs as Australia faltered to 164 for nine in reply to 255 all out at the MCG.
It was a heartening improvement in fortunes, if too late to affect the residency of the Ashes for the next 20 months after England lost the urn with three shuddering defeats .
Anderson alluded to that frustration, and suggested he himself was possibly flattered by his figures of three for 50. Even so, after Mitchell Johnson (five for 63) had again set an ominous tone with another rush of wickets on a cloudy morning, England bowled with great discipline to at last give themselves something to smile about.
"Days like that have been few and far between on this trip," said Anderson. "[But] we're just really hungry to get something out of this tour, and we showed that today. Cooky set really good fields; we bowled to them, and it was a really complete performance."
Anderson did not feel he personally had done anything differently or better this time, however, compared to his efforts in the previous Tests. "I felt terrible today. I didn't have any rhythm. I'm sure I'll make a lot of the highlights, because it was either four or a wicket. I felt really frustrated at times, but I thought the other guys bowled brilliantly: Broady outstanding again."
Anderson mustered only seven wickets at a cost of more than 400 runs in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth but he added: "I've felt all right through the series. Obviously, the frustrating thing is not getting the ball swinging as much as we thought, and there hasn't been as much seam movement as there was last time. I feel I've been bowling okay, but just not getting the rewards for it."
It was a waiting game here too, as England cut off the scoring shots with tireless accuracy. "There wasn't much there, some 'reverse' at some point in the day, but not much seam movement or anything else," added Anderson. "We had to stay patient, work really hard with the guy at the other end and try to bowl maidens and dots. As boring as it sounds, that was the way to go on that pitch, and it worked well for us."
Anderson anticipated more of the same over the final three scheduled days, with both runs and wickets likely to remain hard earned. "There's not much sign of it changing," he added. "I think there might be a little bit more spin by the end, out of the footholds, but apart from that I think it's going to be pretty similar all five days."
Chris Rogers, the Australia opener who held England up for almost four hours with a painstaking 61, admitted: "England are on top. I think we've had our worst day of the series," he said. "England played very well today. I thought they bowled outstandingly."