Joe Root thanked Tim Paine for putting England in then marched the hosts to 1-86 at lunch on day one of the fifth Ashes Test, benefiting from two dropped catches.
Recalled paceman Peter Siddle spilled a regulation chance in the deep then Paine put down a one-handed catch after diving in front of David Warner at first slip.
Root, reprieved on 24 and 25, was 28 not out at Thursday's meal break at the Oval.
Rory Burns, who successfully reviewed his lbw dismissal on four, was unbeaten on 42 at lunch.
The sloppy start included Steve Smith holding a juggled slips catch to dismiss Joe Denly, with the superstar fuming at himself after the ball twice slipped from his grasp.
Paine, boasting a 2-1 series lead and hunting Australia's first Ashes series win in England since 2001, made two surprising decisions at the toss.
Siddle was recalled but rather than resting spearhead Pat Cummins, selectors opted to drop Mitchell Starc.
Paine also opted to bowl first at the inner-city ground in London, renowned for being one of England's most batsman-friendly venues, then admitted he was "a bit split on what to do".
Root struggled to hide his glee, explaining he was keen to bat first on what Paine described as a strange wicket.
"There's a bit of live grass there but it's patchy. It looks a pretty good surface," Root said.
The captain was summoned to the middle after 8.3 overs when Cummins snapped the 27-run partnership between Burns and Denly, which remarkably is the highest opening stand of the series from either side.
Siddle, recalled because of the control he usually offers and a bit of grass on the deck, struggled with his radar and failed to maintain the same dot-ball pressure built by Cummins and Josh Hazlewood.
"He's gone the journey, he's bowled too short," Shane Warne said in commentary.
Warne and Ricky Ponting both suggested they would have batted first, with the former concerned about the sloppiness in the field but also the ease at which Root and Burns scored.
"Expect a bit more than that. You don't expect the runs to be flowing at nearly 3.5 an over," Warne said.
Australia made two changes to the XI that retained the urn in Manchester, also calling up Mitch Marsh in place of Travis Head.
Paine confirmed Marsh's recall in his pre-match press conference, noting it had more to do with giving Australia's quicks some respite rather than Head's recent form with the bat.
Australian Associated Press