Joe Root and James Anderson shared a Test record 10th-wicket stand of 198 before England reduced India to 167-3 in their second innings, a lead of 128 for the tourists, by stumps on day four at Trent Bridge.
Root finished unbeaten on 154 and Anderson made a career-best 81 - the highest score by a No 11 for England - as the hosts turned their overnight 352-9 into a first-innings total of 496 and an advantage of 39 by mid-afternoon.
From Friday's wreckage of 202-7 in reply to India's first-innings 457, the obvious prospect of a stalemate to start the five-match series is perhaps reward enough for the determination of England's last-wicket duo.
Two late wickets saw India falter marginally before stumps, Murali Vijay (52) and Cheteshwar Pujara (55) getting themselves out in successive deliveries.
The probability remains that a slow pitch will have the final say and hands will eventually be shaken on a draw but England's fightback has at least kept things interesting heading into day five.
The morning session on day four threw up an astounding two and a half hours of cricket as a succession of records tumbled to Anderson and Root.
Their combined efforts culminated in what had been for so long, not just when England were losing six wickets for 68 runs the previous afternoon, the unthinkable end product of a first-innings lead.
By lunch, they had also replaced an all-time record which seemed sure to stand for years but in the end lasted only 366 days - Australia debutant Ashton Agar and Phil Hughes' 163 for the 10th wicket, at this very ground at the start of last summer's Ashes.
Anderson the bowler was unable to break that famous partnership, but went on to have one of his finest hours with a 10-wicket match haul as England took an advantage they would not relinquish last summer.
A year on, he was hitting new heights - in the most unexpected circumstances. His pre-existing personal bests with the bat were respectively 34 in Tests, an unbeaten 37 in first-class cricket and 49 not out for Burnley in the Lancashire League - as a young opener 13 years ago.
A stream of boundaries, 11 on the way to his maiden half-century in any senior cricket, made a mockery of that batting CV.
The resident No 11 had ended his last innings for England with tears in his eyes, after being bounced out by the penultimate ball of the match at Headingley to end a brave rearguard as the hosts suffered a shock series loss against Sri Lanka last month.
Here, he played barely a false shot and was only very rarely discomforted by the short ball.
Patience was one of the keys as Root farmed the bulk of the strike in their near four-hour stand, shielding Anderson principally from Ishant Sharma.
The senior partner also went almost 23 overs between boundaries at one stage as Mahendra Singh Dhoni tried to cut off his options.
India created and missed just one obvious opportunity to limit the damage when, with the stand on 'only' 105 and Anderson 45 Vijay failed to hold a low catch at gully off Mohammed Shami.
By then Root, who had 50 to his name when Anderson joined him the previous evening, had passed his hundred with successive off-side fours off Shami.
He went on to his third score of 150 or more, in his 18th Test, before Anderson edged a drive at Bhuvneshwar Kumar (5-82) to be well caught by a diving Shikhar Dhawan at slip and leave Root unbeaten after six and three-quarter hours and 295 balls.
It took India less than five overs after a delayed lunch interval to take the 10th wicket at last - just as well because the frustration appeared to be getting to Ishant, after he wrongly thought he had Root caught-behind and entered an altercation when the batsman pointed out he was going nowhere just yet.
It was a comparative anti-climax for Anderson and Root to then fall short of their double-century stand, but another reality check was in store when India batted again.
Anderson might have made a near-immediate breakthrough, had Matt Prior put his gloves in the right place to collect a Vijay edge.
England got a break anyway when Vijay's opening partner Dhawan poked a Moeen Ali full toss back for a gimme wicket.
That seemed sure to be their only success until Vijay was up the pitch to Moeen and edged him behind, and then Pujara carved a cut at Liam Plunkett to a juggling Ben Stokes at backward point.