(CNN) -- England stuttered to 307 for eight wickets on the first day of the fifth and deciding Ashes Test at The Oval as Australia dominated the final two sessions on Thursday.
England captain Andrew Strauss made a fine half century at The Oval.
England went to lunch at 108 for one, but lost wickets at regular intervals to an Australian attack led by Peter Siddle with four wickets for 63 and Mitchell Johnson two for 69.
Ben Hilfenhaus claimed the prize scalp of England captain Andrew Strauss shortly after lunch to start the rot, while Jonathan Trott was run out for 41 on his debut by a smart piece of fielding by Simon Katich at short leg off the bowling of Marcus North.
Andrew Flintoff, playing his final Test before his retirement, also failed to work his magic with the bat as he fell to Johnson for just seven, a big disappointment for the capacity crowd.
Stuart Broad was unbeaten on 26 at the close after Graeme Swann went for 18 to Siddle to the last ball of the day.
The pair took England past 300 with a stand of 39 for the eighth wicket and the home side will be further encouraged by the turn achieved by occasional off-spinner North on a dry wicket which was already showing signs of breaking up.
England captain Andrew Strauss won the toss and elected to bat as his side bid for the victory they need to win back the Ashes, with the series tied at 1-1.
Cook went to Siddle with the score on 12, but the captain found good support from Ian Bell in a stand of 102 which ended just after lunch when Strauss edged Hilfenhaus to Brad Haddin for 55.
Bell and Paul Collingwood added 62 for the third wicket until the latter became Siddle's second victim as he flashed airily to Mike Hussey at gully for 24.
Bell, who had survived some nervous moments in the early part of his innings, was the next to go, bowled by Siddle for 72 to leave England 181 for four wickets.
Johnson took the next two wickets to fall as he claimed Matt Prior for 18 and Flintoff for seven, caught by Haddin as he played a loose shot to a wide delivery.
Trott had batted steadfastly, but when he departed Australia were on top and the late wicket of Swann to the second new ball completed a fine day for the tourists.
Australia kept an unchanged line-up, meaning that veteran pace bowler Brett Lee did not make his return from a side injury and that spinner Nathan Hauritz was again omitted.
England opted for Steve Harmison over fellow Durham paceman Graham Onions with Trott coming in for the dropped Ravi Bopara.