(CNN) -- Australia captain Ricky Ponting hit a superb 78 as England made a disastrous start to the fourth and penultimate Test of the Ashes series at Headingley, Leeds.
Ponting hit a superb 78 as Australia took complete control on the opening day of the fourth Test at Headingley.
Ponting and Shane Watson shared a 119-run second-wicket stand, which put Australia into the lead after the home side were skittled out for a paltry 102, before both players perished in consecutive overs.
The visitors eventually closed on a comfortable 196 for four, a lead of 94 runs, a position that already makes them favorites to level the series at 1-1 ahead of the deciding fifth Test at The Oval.
Makeshift opener Watson was dismissed two balls after registering his third half-century in as many innings when he attempted to whip the ball through the leg side to be lbw to Graham Onions.
Then Ponting was also lbw when he fell over to a delivery which nipped back from Stuart Broad. When Broad then gained another lbw, from around the wicket this time against Michael Hussey, Australia had lost three for 18 runs.
England's first success came in Steve Harmison's first over back in Test cricket since the winter, when Simon Katich was held at leg-gully from a delivery of extra bounce.
England had earlier capitulated on an opening day immersed in chaos in the build-up and which transferred onto the field.
Injured all-rounder Andrew Flintoff was ruled out as anticipated and wicketkeeper Matt Prior provided a major iscare when he suffered a back spasm in practice.
Prior was eventually passed fit after the toss was delayed by 10 minutes but only he and Alastair Cook reached double figures in an indisciplined batting display.
England were shot out just after lunch for just two runs over a century in only 34 overs, with eight of the dismissals caught by either recalled wicketkeeper Brad Haddin or the enhanced slip cordon.
Peter Siddle took the final four wickets to lead the Australians with five wickets for 21 runs.
Recalled Stuart Clark did the damage before lunch as he took three wickets with Ben Hilfenhaus and Mitchell Johnson chipping in with a wicket apiece.
England captain Andrew Strauss, who won the toss and opted to bat, told Sky Sports that Flintoff's absence was a "big blow."
Strauss added: "Unfortunately, he was just not fit enough. We all feel for him."
Durham paceman Harmison replaced Flintoff in the team.
Australia made two changes to the team which salvaged a draw at Edgbaston with seamer Stuart Clark coming in for off-spinner Nathan Hauritz and Brad Haddin returning as wicketkeeper for Graham Manou.
England are protecting a 1-0 lead in the series after their victory at Lord's in the second Test where Flintoff was named man-of-the-match for his bowling heroics.
But the Lancashire star, while impressing with the bat at Edgbaston, was clearly struggling in the field on Monday's final day, leading to fears he would be unable to play in back-to-back Tests.
If Flintoff is fit, he is set to return to the England line-up for an emotional Test farewell at The Oval later this month.