Stunned England were again left in the mire after another dismal showing against Australia during the First Test in Brisbane.

Skipper Andrew Flintoff tried to remain upbeat despite seeing the red-hot hosts rack-up a massive 602-9 declared on day two - and then grab three quick wickets before the close of play.

He conceded Australia had "hit England hard" but that was an understatement as the jittery tourists stumbled to 53-3.

Both openers Andrew Strauss (12) and Alastair Cook (11) were dismissed cheaply by pace ace Glenn McGrath in the space of two deliveries and Paul Collingwood quickly followed, falling victim to Stuart Clark caught behind.

Kevin Pietersen (6no) and Ian Bell (13no) steadied the ship to guide England to stumps without any further damage but now they require a further 350 runs just to avoid the follow on.

Earlier, the tourists had enjoyed some success in the field with Flintoff leading by example grabbing 4-99 off 30 overs after the Aussies had resumed on 346-3.

Matthew Hoggard, Steve Harmison and James Anderson also all claimed their first wickets of the Test series, Baildon-based Hoggard snaring the much-needed scalp of Ricky Ponting.

The home side's stylish skipper had progressed from his overnight 137 to hit 196 before walking across his stumps and being trapped lbw.

Michael Clarke added a useful 56.

But it was their lower order which really hampered England. The last three wickets added 102 runs to help Australia reach their highest score against England on home soil since 1946-7.

Clark belted 39 off just 23 balls including successive sixes off Anderson while Brett Lee finished unbeaten on 43.

Out-of-sorts Harmison had another day to forget Flintoff admitted: "Now we need a couple of big partnerships with Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen and myself.

"We have to come to the party, play positively and put some runs on the board."

McGrath was the star of the show at the death marking his return to Test cricket in typical fashion and proving there is plenty of life left him still at 36.

The seamer was playing his first Test since January having taken time out to care for his ill wife Jane but his double whammy ensured Australia are in complete control at The Gabba.