Only Usman Khawaja (53) could post a half-century, and no stand exceeded 53 as England arguably fluffed their lines with the new ball but stuck to their task to restrict Australia to 209-4 at the close.
There was a prize maiden wicket for England debutant seamer Craig Overton - home captain Steve Smith - and Chris Woakes edged back towards his best in support of James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
No one, though, could claim to have achieved a telling advantage in front of a modern-day ground-record crowd of more than 55,000 on a day briefly notable too for the niggle which has often overshadowed this high-profile series so far.
At dinner, England had made worryingly little headway.
They did not help themselves by pitching too short initially - although as well as no wickets, the other consequence was relatively few runs.
The attritional tone which had prevailed in last week’s first Test at the Gabba was therefore, against expectations, set here too.
It was down to Woakes that, after an opening session truncated by showers to only 13.5 overs, England then bagged a couple of much-needed breakthroughs in the second.
First, Woakes was alert and accurate with his direct-hit throw after David Warner sent Cameron Bancroft back as he attempted a single to Moeen Ali’s misfield - and the young opener could not regain his ground.
England had also starved Warner of fluency, and arguably he was running a little short of patience when he tried to engineer a run-scoring angle off the back foot but succeeded only in edging Woakes behind.
There would have been another for Woakes if Mark Stoneman had held a running catch at deep square-leg when Khawaja mis-pulled on 44.
The left-hander took only minor advantage, though, completing his 89-ball half-century with a back-cut off Moeen Ali for his eighth boundary only to then fall in the first over of the final session as the lights began to take effect.
He tried to attack a length ball from Anderson and edged to a fine gully, where James Vince took a sharp catch diving to his left.
Smith’s entrance immediately brought a verbal set-to with Broad and Anderson - unsurprising, given the exchange of views which has travelled south from Brisbane between the Australia captain and his opponents.
When Anderson was later deployed to take up a short mid-on position to Broad, it looked a provocative move close to Smith’s personal space as he backed up - and once again, there were words as well as one minor physical brush as both went for the same ground.
It was a potential flashpoint which went no further thanks to Overton - who was triumphant when he got one in the perfect spot to Smith and found lateral movement too to have the world’s number one batsman bowled off inside-edge and pad.
That, however, was as good as it got for Root’s men as Peter Handscomb and Shaun Marsh dug in to close out the remaining hour-and-a-half.
**England wore black armbands in memory of first-class umpire Russell Evans, who has died at the age of 52.