After a washout on day one, visiting captain Tim Paine made the brave call to field first in what appeared welcoming batting conditions, the first Australian captain to insert the opposition since February 2016.
The gamble largely paid off, England’s innings subsiding shortly before 6pm, but battling knocks from Rory Burns (53) and Jonny Bairstow (52) provided a foothold in the game.
Stuart Broad removed David Warner with a beauty as the tourists reached 30-1 at stumps, but Archer, England’s most eagerly anticipated debutant since Kevin Pietersen, turned in a compelling six-over cameo that hinted at plenty more to come.
He was wicketless at the close but generated a tangible electricity at the same ground where his super over helped England win the World Cup just a month ago.
His second ball in Test cricket almost flattened Cameron Bancroft’s off stump, his third topped 90mph and his 10th appeared to claim an edge that went unnoticed by everyone on the field.
The buzz around the 24-year-old masked a good day for Australia, for whom the recalled Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins took three wickets each as they preyed on a fragile top six.
The day’s play was dedicated to the Ruth Strauss Foundation, with the stands a sea of red and both teams honouring former England captain Andrew Strauss’s late wife by donning commemorative caps and shirts. A total of £382,462 was raised.
Strauss’s sons rang the five-minute bell and collected the mementos from the players but the sense of bonhomie and collaboration was quickly replaced by a typically hard-fought day of Ashes cricket.
Any apprehension Paine harboured about his decision evaporated midway through the second over, with Jason Roy dismissed for a brief, but torrid, duck.
Hazlewood’s first ball drew an uncertain waft of the bat, his second beat the outside edge and his third grazed the bat on the way through. Roy has just 43 runs in four innings as a Test opener and the suspicion that he may need to drop down the order to thrive is only growing.
Hazlewood was only getting started, though, reeling off three successive maidens on a consistently challenging line before nipping one back into England captain Joe Root and thumping the knee roll in front of leg stump.
Root did not challenge the lbw decision but departed reluctantly, perhaps in fear of what might unfold. Things could have deteriorated further, Burns dropped at gully on 16 and Joe Denly clattered on the helmet by a pumped up Cummins, but the pair held firm as they added another 50 runs before lunch.
Having surrendered some of their momentum Australia reset during the interval and took the next four wickets for 62. Denly was the first, becoming Hazlewood’s third victim of the day courtesy of a thin edge.
A second reprieve for Burns, this time by Paine, allowed him to bring up a determined half-century but his luck was about to catch up with him. He fell to a memorable grab at short-leg, Bancroft staying low, springing sideways and gathering one-handed at the second attempt.
That brought Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes together at Lord’s for the first time since their game-changing partnership in the World Cup final, but there was no encore. Buttler fiddled outside off stump to give Peter Siddle his first success and Stokes fell lbw sweeping Nathan Lyon. Between them they had eked out just 25 runs and conjured a pair of soft departures.
At 138-6 the game – and possibly the series – was slipping from England’s grasp. That they did not lose their grip entirely was down to Bairstow, coming in on the back of four successive failures.
He put on 72 with Chris Woakes, driving crisply and correctly whenever invited and building up enough confidence to unveil a deft reverse sweep off Lyon.
Just before tea he had nudged England past 200 but once again Australia used the break in play to their advantage. Woakes had batted with impressive care and attention for 32 but it took only one well-directed bumper from Cummins, thudding the back of the helmet as the all-rounder ducked, to undo him.
Woakes passed a concussion test but was rattled, lasting just a couple more balls before gloving another rib-tickling delivery through to the wicketkeeper.
The barrage of bumpers continued for the rest of the innings, Archer succumbing after one flamboyant cut for four. Lyon wrapped things, bamboozling Broad before Bairstow holed out chasing late runs.
The expectations on Archer were palpable as England took the field and he came within a whisker of cleaning up Bancroft with his second ball, a whizzing, hooping inswinger, then breached 90mph with his next two. Archer should have been toasting a first Test scalp in his second over, but nobody on the field heard the nick which UltraEdge appeared to detect as the ball skimmed Warner’s bat.
In the end it was Broad who did for the left-hander, flicking leg stump with one that tore through Warner’s defences, but Bancroft and Usman Khawaja fought through to the end.
Scoreboard: Page 24