Having lost the toss and been put in to bat in conditions that favoured the seamers, recalled opener Zak Crawley and the under-pressure Haseeb Hameed were immediately thrust into the firing line.
And it took just two overs for Australia to make the breakthrough, with the returning Pat Cummins getting Hameed caught behind for a duck.
Crawley looked to play positively but only lasted 25 deliveries, getting caught at gully for 12 off a Cummins delivery which found some extra bounce.
With England having slipped to 13-2, Dawid Malan and Joe Root were once again tasked with steadying the ship.
However, they were unable to get through to lunch unscathed, with Cummins getting Malan caught at slip for 14 off what proved to be the final ball before lunch.
Root went on to pass 50, his third in the series so far, but he could not go on and convert it into a hundred, getting caught behind off Mitchell Starc.
Ben Stokes then fell to Cameron Green for 25, leaving England in big trouble at 115-5 with Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler at the crease.
Once again, England were unable to see out the final over before the end of a session, with Buttler charging down the wicket against Nathan Lyon and smashing a simple catch straight to deep midwicket.
Bairstow did his best to try and shepherd England towards a total of any real significance but, after Mark Wood became Scott Boland’s first Test wicket, he was bounced out by Starc for 35.
Jack Leach struck an excellent six off Lyon, dancing down the wicket and smashing him back over his head, before edging the Australian spinner to slip.
Ollie Robinson also played a few shots on his way to 22, before holing out in the deep off Lyon as England were bowled out for 185.
In response, Marcus Harris and David Warner were able to put on a fifty-run partnership, with Warner looking to take the attack to the England bowlers.
James Anderson was able to make a breakthrough before the close of play, getting Warner caught in the gully for 38.
Harris and nightwatchman Lyon were able to see Australia safely through to the close of play, having made 61-1 and trailing England by just 124 runs.
Here are five talking points from the day’s play.
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Hameed makes England’s 50th duck
England opted to keep faith in Hameed for this Test, with Burns dropping out of the side and getting replaced by Crawley.
However, the 24-year-old was unable to repay that faith on day one, recording a ten-ball duck and England’s 50th of the year.
After leaving Starc’s opening over, Hameed was forced to play at a ball from Cummins and edged it behind to Carey.
That set the tone for a day which saw yet more misery heaped onto England’s Ashes campaign.
Cummins back with a bang
Having missed the second Test in Adelaide after being deemed a Covid close contact, Cummins made his return in Melbourne in spectacular fashion.
Taking the new ball alongside Starc, the Australia captain made early inroads into England’s fragile batting line-up, getting Hameed caught behind for nought in his first over.
He followed it up by getting Crawley caught at gully for 12 with an excellent delivery, reducing England to 13-2.
After Malan and Root looked to have steadied things for England, Cummins removed Malan just before lunch for 14.
Speaking on BBC Test Match Special, former England bowler Steven Finn said: “His line has been impeccable. He is not showing any signs of having being in isolation for a week.”
England’s poor starts
Root has undoubtedly carried England’s batting this year, with the England captain scoring over 1,000 runs more than England’s next leading run scorer.
England have particularly struggled at the top of the order, with Burns, Hameed, Crawley and Dom Sibley all opening the batting at various times this year and just one of them averaging over 20.
As a result of England’s top order problems, Root has regularly been forced to begin his innings much earlier than he would have liked.
In fact, when he came into bat in Melbourne in the eighth over with England 13-2, it was the 14th time in 27 innings this year that he has arrived at the crease during the first ten overs.
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Root’s wait for a ton continues
Ahead of this game, Root confidently predicted that he would score his first Test hundred in Australia before the series was over.
“I’m confident that in these next three games I can bang out a hundred in these conditions,” he said.
“I feel in a really good place with my batting. I know that’s a brave thing to say but that conversion rate, this year, it’s not been an issue at all.”
However, the England captain fell short of the landmark once again, looking good on his way to a third half-century in the series before frustratingly nicking off to Starc.
It was a familiar picture for Root, who now holds the record for the most unconverted fifties in Australia by an England batter with nine.
Root did move up to third on the list for most Test runs in a calendar year, passing Graeme Smith’s tally of 1656, and he will need to score a ton in the second innings if he is to overtake Mohammad Yousuf and break the record.
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Boland’s historic debut
With Australia deciding not to risk the fitness of Jhye Richardson and Michael Neser, Boland was handed his Test debut.
The 32-year-old became just the fourth Indigenous Australian to play Test cricket, following in the footsteps of Jason Gillespie, Ashleigh Gardner and Faith Thomas.
“It’s huge, Dizzy [Gillespie] was the first but Australia has a rich history, 50-60,000 years, and it’s great that is starting to be reflected in our team,” Cummins said of Boland’s debut.
“It’s a dream to wear the Baggy Green but a packed MCG, 70,000 in, Boxing Day… it doesn’t get any better.”
Boland has an excellent record at the MCG and bowled well without reward until he pinned Wood LBW.