England captain Alastair Cook failed to survive the first over for a second successive game as his miserable tour of Australia was dealt a fresh blow.
Cook lasted two balls against a Prime Minister's XI before nervously edging behind a short delivery from 37-year-old former Australia quick Brett Lee.
Lee also pinned the similarly out-of-sort Joe Root lbw for one, in a fiery initial burst reminiscent of his best days.
In stiflingly hot conditions, and on a slow Manuka Oval outfield, England pieced together a competitive 264 for eight built around two half-century stands.
Michael Carberry (47) and Gary Ballance (56) added 75 after the early exits of Cook and Root, before an 80-run combination between Jos Buttler (61) and Tim Bresnan (36) rescued matters from 149 for six.
England included their captain in a near full-strength team as they sought a morale-boosting win in Canberra, with Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott watching on.
He saw little of Cook, though, as the skipper managed just a single before being surprised by a Lee short ball he tentatively pushed at to give wicketkeeper Peter Handscomb a simple catch.
Cook has now scored one, four, seven and seven in his past four innings.
Root is similarly in a fallow period and was also on one, from 14 balls, when he got a tough decision playing back in his crease to Lee.
Carberry had already survived a strong caught behind shout in Lee's first over when his top-edged pull was put down by Ben Cutting with the opener on 10.
Carberry, one of just two changes from the six-wicket defeat to Australia on Sunday, responded to his reprieves - and Lee's decision to take a rest - by taking the attack to the bowlers.
He busily set about building a confident stand with Ballance, until another top-edged pull allowed Lee to again make his mark at mid-on with a catch.
Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara fell cheaply to leg-spinner James Muirhead (three for 52), the former bowled leg stump through the gate.
Ballance tired after reaching his second successive half-century and became the leg-spinner's third victim to leave England 149 for six in the 30th over.
Buttler was then lucky not to go first ball, playing back to a Muirhead ball that skidded into his pads, and he made the most of the chance to build an innings.
The wicketkeeper-batsman turned the strike over and worked the wide expanses of the slow outfield to bring up a run-a-ball half-century.
Bresnan ably complied with his urgency, before being caught on the boundary.
Buttler's innings ended in a crash of stumps when he missed a swipe at Jackson Bird, but in the conditions England had a testing score as they searched for their first win on tour for two months.
Carberry and James Tredwell were England's two changes from the series-opening one-day international in Melbourne. Ian Bell and Ben Stokes dropped out while there was also no room for Steven Finn, who has been conspicuous by his absence on this tour.