Mahendra Singh Dhoni was rewarded after inserting the tourists as his home city of Ranchi hosted its first ever day of international cricket in front of 39,000 rapt fans.
Alastair Cook (17), Kevin Pietersen (17) and Ian Bell (25) all came and went after getting starts as the home side reduced England to 68 for three in the 16th over.
India's bowlers dictated terms throughout the mandatory 10-over powerplay. Bhuvneshwar Kumar yielded just two from his first two overs and beat Bell's outside edge with a beauty.
Cook turned Ahmed's second delivery wide of mid-on for the first boundary of the day but both batsmen were kept in check by some tight lines. While Cook found a way to rotate the strike, Bell struggled and after 18 balls had just one run, off the outside edge.
Cook picked up two more boundaries but was the first man out in the eighth over, Ahmed rapping him on the pad and persuading umpire Steve Davis to raise the finger.
At the end of the 10th England had nudged along to 34 for one, with Pietersen now joining Bell at the crease. Bell picked up two boundaries moments later, one an authoritative square drive the other a less convincing top-edged hook.
Ishant Sharma's first over was a mixed bag, including a decent lbw shout and a play and miss from Pietersen but also successive fours from the England number three.
Pietersen seemed like he was adding some impetus into the innings but was given out caught behind to Sharma for 17. Pietersen did not obviously hit it and looked aghast at the decision, lingering longer than he should have before stomping from the field.
But worse was to come, with Bell nicking the returning Kumar and Dhoni taking a sharp catch standing up to the stumps.