England reached 199 for five against by stumps on day one of the fourth Test in Nagpur on a tricky pitch.
Kevin Pietersen fared best on a slow, low pitch, scoring 73, while a spirited and resolute partnership worth 60 runs between Matt Prior (34) and debutant Joe Root (31) steered England out of trouble by the close.
Root was one of two changes for England, replacing Samit Patel, while an injured Steven Finn made way for Tim Bresnan. India, despite hinting at a full-scale overhaul of their side after back-to-back defeats, made just two changes: Ravindra Jadeja coming in Yuvraj Singh, and leg-spinner Piyush Chawla in place of seamer Zaheer Khan.
There were questions about whether the home side had got the balance of their side right with such a spin-heavy team and just one seamer, especially once skipper MS Dhoni lost the toss for the first time in the series.
Ishant Sharma proved that pace was a weapon, benefiting from low bounce early on to draw a tentative stroke from Nick Compton (three), who edged behind to the wicketkeeper.
Alastair Cook, almost immovable so far, owed his exit to a huge misjudgement from Umpire Dharmasena. Sharma's delivery hit him well outside off stump and was only going further wide, but it did not stop him being ruled leg before wicket.
Cook's batting has underpinned England's resurgence in this series, and it was left to Pietersen and Jonathan Trott to steady the ship.
They did so at no great pace, but grafted their way to lunch, with the spinners relying on drift, variations in pace and guile to trouble the tourists rather than spin itself.
Having added 86 runs together for the third wicket, India looked bereft of ideas, only for the middle order to give their wickets away softly.
Trott started the rot, inexplicably leaving a straight ball from Jadeja and being bowled on 44. Ian Bell was next - having laboured for 27 balls to score just one run, he then stroked a catch to short extra cover from his 28th against Chawla.
Root struck an early boundary and looked to settle quickly, keeping Pietersen company until tea, but when the senior player flicked Jadeja to the man at midwicket for a low catch, it left England exposed at 139 for five.
But Prior and Root, at the same, crawling pace of the rest of the day, saw England to the close. They repelled seam and spin, new ball and old alike, as India rifled through their overs. In a rare departure for Test cricket, a full seven extra overs were bowled above the required 90 because India's over rate was so high.
The jury is out on whether England had a good or bad day as they go in search of a series win. On the one hand, the slow and low pitch is unlikely to get any better for batting, and may soon begin to spin to add to its other layers of treachery. On the other, England may have under-performed and scored too ponderously - certainly they attacked the spinners more effectively in Mumbai and Kolkata.
But a result looks likely in Nagpur, and both sides will take some optimism and some concern from the opening day.