Sam Curran made a brilliant 78 to drag England from 86-6 to 246 all out before India closed on 19-0 to claim the bragging rights at the end of an enthralling first day in Southampton.
Curran's 136-ball special from number eight spared England's blushes on a day where, yet again, their top order was found badly wanting in the face of top-class seam bowling.
It further strengthened the argument, too, that Curran - man of the match in the first Test at Edgbaston - should not have been left out of the side for the heavy defeat at Trent Bridge last week though despite his heroics here, it is the tourists who appear to hold the advantage in this must-win match.
England started the day on a positive note, captain Joe Root again winning the toss and opting to bat first under clear blue skies.
However, Keaton Jennings was undone by a smart piece of bowling by Jasprit Bumrah as he shouldered arms to a delivery that swung back sharply into his pads and sent him on his way for a duck.
Root (4) survived an early lbw scare but Ishant Sharma dismissed him in that very fashion moments later, the Yorkshireman having his defences breached by a hooping inswinger that Sharma bowled almost exclusively throughout the day.
Jonny Bairstow's promotion to number four saw him given a torrid time by Sharma's brilliance but it was Bumrah who ended his scratchy six-run stay when getting one to straighten and kiss his outside edge on the way through to wicket-keeper Rishabh Pant, leaving the hosts toiling on 28-3.
Alastair Cook looked in much better touch than in recent weeks before he was brilliantly caught by Virat Kohli for 17 when chasing a wide delivery from Hardik Pandya and guiding to third slip.
Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes took England to 57-4 at lunch and the former began in positive fashion upon the resumption, driving crisply to the boundary on a couple of occasions before edging Mohammed Shami to third slip to leave England in further trouble.
As he did at Trent Bridge last week, Stokes again demonstrated admirable patience and resolution but his battling vigil came to an end when Shami - who had been shaping the ball away from the left-hander throughout his spell - brought one back in and dismissed him lbw for 23.
That brought the recalled Curran to the crease and from 86-6, he and fellow returnee Moeen Ali dragged England to 167-6 with an enterprising stand of 81 which for the first time in the day put India's bowlers on the back foot and forced them to waver from their immaculate morning areas.
Ali was all grace and panache, lofting Ravi Ashwin down the ground for a glorious straight six while Curran was smart and aggressive in equal measure.
Having watched his colleagues undone by considerable lateral movement all through the morning session, Curran immediately set his stall out to be positive, running well between the wickets and taking advantage of any width offered by the Indian pacers.
The innings wasn't all about offense, though, and a feature of Curran's game plan was to play the moving ball off the back foot watchfully and as late as possible.
When Ali departed for 40 - brilliantly caught by Bumrah at mid-wicket after top edging an attempted slog-sweep off the bowling of Ashwin - Curran slipped into another gear and, despite losing Adil Rashid lbw for only six, found a useful ally in Stuart Broad.
The pair added 63 - of which Broad contributed 17 - as Kohli and his bowlers began to feel the heat.
Wicketkeeper Pant endured a torrid time behind the sticks but of the 23 byes next to his name, the majority can be attributed to some wayward bowling as the Indians sprayed the ball everywhere just before and after tea.
Broad was eventually pinned lbw as Bumrah (20-5-46-3) claimed his final wicket of the day in another impressive showing from the young paceman.
With only James Anderson for company, Curran decided to throw caution to the wind and his outstanding hand came to an end when he was last man out for 78, clean bowled by Ashwin attempting a big heave to the leg-side.
Curran left the field to a standing ovation having dragged his side to a respectable 246 and with the chance to pick up a couple of Indian wickets in the remaining twenty minutes of play.
However, neither Anderson nor Broad made the Indian openers play anywhere near enough and they finished the day on 19-0 after four unremarkable overs.
For the visitors, it was another day they dominated, the sixth in succession since losing heavily at Lord's, but they will know that thanks to Curran's lone hand, they need to bat well and bat big if they are to turn the screw on an England side that might just be fraying at the edges.
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