England openers Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook made an impressive start in response to Australia's 280 all out on the second afternoon of the final Test at the SCG.

In a frenetic second session, Strauss and Cook clicked straight into gear against the new ball on the way to 73 without loss - replicating the tempo, albeit with mostly straighter bats, set in Mitchell Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus' counter-attacking ninth-wicket stand for the hosts. There was precious little conventional about the way Australia approached 300 in their first innings. The first two wickets put on 105, and the last two 91. But the six in between could muster only 84.

James Anderson, unfortunate to draw a blank on the first day, made up for that with four wickets.

But after Australia appeared destined for an under-par score below 200, with the middle order missing in action, Johnson (53) and Hilfenhaus' partnership of 76 in little more than an hour either side of lunch changed the complexion of the contest.

Australia began a cloudy but occasionally bright morning on 134 for four - and it seemed they needed a substantial contribution from at least one of Michael Hussey or Brad Haddin, in a match which they need to win to stop their opponents becoming the first from England to win the Ashes outright down under since 1986/87.

Haddin went tamely in only the fourth over of the day, going after a wide ball from Anderson (four for 66) and edging behind on the back foot.

Hussey kept England at bay until Paul Collingwood struck with the final delivery before the second new ball was taken.

The dismissal was a triumph of the teamwork England prize so highly, after Hussey had crunched a series of tempting full balls into the covers only to have them cut off by well-positioned fielders in the ring.

Collingwood tried a different tack with the sixth ball of the over, a tighter line and a touch of inswing to the left-hander who inside-edged on to the top of his stumps in defence.

Chris Tremlett was unlucky to see his second over with the new ball go for 11 runs. But Anderson exacted swift revenge on his behalf, when Steve Smith aimed an ambitious drive at a ball which was not quite there for the shot - and edged to the safe Collingwood at third slip.

Four balls later, more outswing brought Anderson his 20th wicket of the series - Peter Siddle edging obligingly, but less culpably than Smith, to first slip.

Johnson and Hilfenhaus were in no mood to go quietly, though, and England appeared to run out of ideas while the former was clubbing five fours and a six in his 63-ball 50.

Hilfenhaus hoisted a six over long-on off Tim Bresnan, and Johnson added a four and another maximum in the same favoured direction at the start of the next over from Graeme Swann.

It was therefore a significant relief to England when Johnson missed another swipe to leg and lost his off stump to Tim Bresnan (three for 89), and Hilfenhaus was eventually last out - wonderfully caught high above his head by Matt Prior from an edge on an attempted hook at an Anderson bouncer.

With swing and occasional uneven bounce in the equation, stand-in Australia captain Michael Clarke handed Johnson the new ball for the first time since the left-armer sprayed it embarrassingly around Lord's in the 2009 Ashes.

The experiment did not work - and as Australia mostly bowled too short, Strauss and Cook cut and pulled with conviction.

The captain was especially fluent on his way to an unbeaten 49 at better than a run-a-ball and containing six fours, and a pull for six off Hilfenhaus.