Lancashire’s Jos Buttler confirmed his value to England with a sterling half-century from number seven but more hard work lay ahead for the tourists after a largely chastening second day of the Fourth Test in Mumbai.
Buttler, in only his second Test back after being dropped more than a year ago, dug in for a determined and skilful 76 to help England to a hard-earned 400 all out against spinners Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja at the Wankhede Stadium.
Ashwin claimed six for 112 and Jadeja returned figures of four for 109, before Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara responded to England’s total in an unbroken second-wicket century stand.
India reached a serene 146 for one at stumps in Mumbai, seeking to defend their already unbeatable 2-0 series lead.
The home batsmen appeared to identify Adil Rashid as the chief threat on a spinners’ pitch, and refused to let him settle.
The result was a 126-ball half-century for Vijay - whose only blip in an innings of 70 not out came on 45 when Jonny Bairstow missed a tough stumping chance from a Rashid googly which semi-yorked the advancing batsman - and the ultra-reliable Pujara dutifully kept him company.
England had resumed on 288 for five - and despite the early loss of Ben Stokes, Buttler took responsibility for eking out a substantial first-innings total, with Jake Ball’s help in a precious ninth-wicket partnership of 54.
Buttler’s innings was a world away from the limited-overs power-hitting for which he is renowned, but it did contain two perfectly-executed reverse-sweeps off Jadeja among his six fours.
Ashwin and Jadeja accounted for all 10 wickets on a surface which offered sharp turn almost from the outset, and it was no surprise to see Moeen Ali and Rashid bowling 28 of the 52 overs in India’s reply.
Off-spinner Moeen gave England a lone success before tea, turning one through the gate to bowl KL Rahul as he tried to drive, before a wicketless evening session.
Stokes’ dismissal four overs into the day, via DRS, was a controversial one - in process but not outcome.
He was initially given not out caught at slip, but video and associated technology appeared to demonstrate his bat hitting ball as well as ground before a deflection off the wicketkeeper to the catcher after Ashwin found sharp turn.
Stokes was incredulous as he walked off, but did not let his reaction stray into ill-discipline this time.
The complicating factor was that the scheduled official was not available for third-umpire duties, Chettithody Shamshuddin left to make the decision with original appointment Marais Erasmus on the pitch in place of Paul Reiffel. Reiffel is still recovering from concussion after being hit on the back of the head by a stray throw from the outfield on day one.
The bottom line, though, was that the right decision - according to available evidence - was reached.
Chris Woakes spared the third umpire when he gave himself out, caught behind on the front-foot defence off Jadeja from a thin edge on another one that turned from a danger area.
Rashid then went for the first single-figure score of the innings, playing no shot to a Jadeja arm ball which flicked the off bail.
But Ball, who survived barely a half-chance on nought when he flashed an edge through Virat Kohli’s hands at slip, helped Buttler pass 50 - and nicked some very handy runs himself too.
It was enough to convince Kohli to at last take the second new ball, after 121 overs, to no immediate avail as England extended their first innings into a fifth session - in which Ball soon edged Ashwin behind on the back foot, and then Buttler was last out after he went up the pitch in search of his second six but was bowled by Jadeja.
By then he appeared to have put England in a position of great promise, but Vijay and Pujara were lying in wait to provide the latest reality check of what has been a tough tour to date for Alastair Cook’s team.