Mitchell Johnson looked back to his destructive best and David Warner smashed a quickfire half-century as Australia outclassed Sri Lanka on the opening day of the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne.
After Johnson's expensive but effective 4-63 helped dismiss Sri Lanka for just 156 earlier in the day, Michael Clarke (20) and Shane Watson (13) were unbeaten at stumps as Australia reached 3-150 to trail by just six runs overall.
Warner (62 from 46 deliveries) and Cowan (36) were responsible for scratching out 95 of those runs with a scintillating opening partnership as Sri Lanka looked listless in the field and incapable of making any breakthroughs.
But three quick wickets - that included Warner holing out to deep square leg and the comical run out of Phil Hughes for 10 - at least gave Sri Lanka some hope late in the day.
And they could have been in even better shape had they held two chances in the final hour of play when Clarke and Watson were yet to get their eye in on a pitch that was lively in the morning, but appeared to be improving by the minute.
Clarke was given a life on five by Tillakaratne Dilshan at short mid-on, while Kumar Sangakkara - who was filling in behind the stumps for the injured Prasanna Jayawardene (thumb) - grassed a tough chance off Chanaka Welegedara (0-36) when Watson was on the same score.
While Sri Lanka were guilty of missing a couple of chances in the field, they will be more disappointed about their disjointed effort with the bat earlier in the day.
A tinge of green in the pitch may have helped Australia's cause, but Sangakkara (58) was the only Sri Lankan batsman who looked comfortable at the crease and it took a piece of brilliance from Matthew Wade to dismiss him.
Sangakkara hadn't played a false shot all day, but was tempted into hooking a short Johnson delivery that bounced higher than expected and could only collect the top edge.
The ball flew straight over Wade's head, but the wicketkeeper kept his eyes on the ball and sprinted over 20 metres towards the sightscreen, before producing a dive to pull off a tremendous catch that dismissed the man who became the 11th player in history to register 10,000 Test runs earlier in his innings.
Sangakkara's patience at the crease and ability to punish anything loose was the only highlight of a poor batting performance from the tourists as questionable shot selection led to many of his team-mates' demise.
Bird, who impressed on debut with figures of 2-32, was right on the mark from his opening over and had his first Test wicket with the 22nd delivery of the morning when Dimuth Karunaratne (five) came forward to a ball on a good length, but was only able to edge one through to Wade.
The usually reliable Dilshan (11) played a shot off Johnson that was more suited to Twenty20 than Test cricket shortly after and was bowled as Sri Lanka slumped to 2-19, before Peter Siddle (2-30) made it 3-37 when Mahela Jayawardene (three) feathered another one through to Wade.
Sangakkara and Thilan Samaraweera (10) combined with some success to take the score through to 3-79 at lunch, but Sri Lanka lost seven wickets for 77 runs during the second session to undo any good work the duo had done.
Johnson was the main reason for the sudden collapse, with his spell fast and ferocious and highlighted by wickets in consecutive deliveries that saw Sri Lanka fall from 5-134 to 7-134 in swift fashion.
The first of those wickets was Johnson's best, with Prasanna Jayawardene copping a quick one on the thumb that ballooned up to Wade behind the stumps.
It didn't get any better for the tourists as Johnson picked up another one that also happened to be his 200th in Test cricket, before Nathan Lyon (2-23) came in to clean up the tail.
Warner and Cowan got Australia off to a fast start as the hosts looked set to continue their domination, but it's Clarke and Watson who now hold the key as the duo are set at the crease and ready to bat Sri Lanka out of the match.