Victory in this third Investec Test for England would mean the urn is in safe keeping for a third successive time, thanks to an unassailable 3-0 lead.
But after Australia won the toss on an initially sunny morning, Chris Rogers and Watson took the tourists to 76 before their partnership was ended.
James Anderson and Stuart Broad both found new-ball swing, yet to no avail even under increasing cloud cover.
The nearest England came to an early breakthrough was when lbw candidate Watson was hit just in line pushing forward at Broad, who was persuaded not to go to DRS after Marais Erasmus ruled not out.
Watson therefore survived on seven, and Hawk-Eye confirmed the ball going over the top of middle and leg-stump.
Rogers was the more convincing of Australia's openers, notably with one boundary clipped through straight midwicket off Broad and another pushed past vacant mid-off.
And the left-hander progressed to a well-made half-century before Bresnan found the outside edge of opening partner Watson's bat, with Alastair Cook taking the catch in the slips.