Stuart Broad's improvement was the most encouraging aspect as England nonetheless came up against a determined Australia Invitational XI rearguard at the Sydney Cricket Ground in their final Ashes warm-up match.
Broad's figures of 20-7-36-3 were a heartening indication, with the first Test only eight days away, that he has benefited from his first match practice of the winter in last week's rain-wrecked draw in Hobart.
Steven Finn produced a much patchier performance but, after he also picked up two more wickets, the hosts were struggling on 93 for five.
England were then unable, however, to make the next crucial breakthrough as Ryan Carters and captain Peter Nevill, with 94 and 76 not out respectively, combined for an unbroken sixth-wicket stand of 178 to consolidate a half-century from opener Ed Cowan in a stumps total of 271 for five.
England's primary objective, as well as a win to set them on their way to Brisbane next week, will be to ensure their seamers all reach the Ashes opener as well prepared as possible.
To that end, Alastair Cook put the Invitationals in under cloudless skies on a pitch which has spent several days of rain under cover, therefore providing Broad with an opportunity to bowl himself into prime condition, and Finn and Boyd Rankin a chance to press their claims as England's preferred third seamer.
Rankin bowled significantly better than he had in England's tour opener in Perth two weeks ago, but was not rewarded with a wicket.
Broad, however, was unquestionably the pick of an attack completed by off-spinner Graeme Swann.
He conceded a commanding boundary past mid-off by Aaron Finch from the second ball of the match and responded by asking for a resurfacing of the footholds.
In his second over, Broad demonstrated he was back in the groove with a very good delivery, which left Finch as he pushed forward at a tight off-side line and edged behind.
He struck again in his fifth over when he snaked another full ball back between Callum Ferguson's bat and pad to win an lbw verdict.
He might have had a third wicket had Jonny Bairstow, deputising behind the stumps for the injured Matt Prior, managed to intercept a diving half-chance as Kurtis Patterson got off the mark with an edge down the leg side for four.
Finn had begun with an over which cost nine runs, including a wide called first ball when he tried a bouncer which looped harmlessly over the batsman and then barely carried to Bairstow.
But better was to come and Finn saw off Patterson when the left-hander edged another full delivery to first slip, where Cook took a neat catch away to his right.
By then, Finn had also hit Cowan on the helmet when he missed an attempted hook.
There seemed to be evidence that the rhythm might be starting to return for a bowler still vying with Chris Tremlett and possibly Rankin to support Broad and James Anderson next week.
But Cowan punished Finn in his second spell – completing his 75-ball fifty in the final over before lunch with a cut for his ninth four.
Two early-afternoon wickets, one for Broad and one for Finn in successive overs, owed much more to the fielders than bowlers.
The two dismissed batsmen played their part too, Ben Rohrer contriving to cut Broad, to point, where Michael Carberry held a one-handed, diving catch.
Then Cowan spoiled all his hard work in the morning, pulling a long-hop from Finn to Jonathan Trott at square-leg without adding to his lunchtime score of 51.
The next five overs brought just a single as Nevill and Carters kept England's seamers at bay.
Then the return of Finn loosened England's grip on the scoring rate and Nevill in particular made it his business to stop Swann exerting control.
That involved a six over long-on to go with five fours in his 119-ball half-century – a milestone Carters reached first, but from 128 deliveries.
The pair were increasingly at ease as batting conditions became ever more agreeable and, even when Broad and Rankin returned with the second new ball, there was no way past the two wicketkeeper-batsmen and into the tail