Travis Head hit a stubborn half-century to keep Australia in the hunt after their top order slumped under sustained pressure from India's bowlers, leaving the first Test in Adelaide finely poised.
Batting on his home ground, Head kept his cool in the humid conditions to be 61 not out at stumps on day two, with Mitchell Starc unbeaten on eight.
His efforts helped steer Australia to 191-7 in reply to India's 250.
Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin bowled beautifully to take three wickets, while Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah grabbed two each.
It was Head's second 50 in his third Test, with the Adelaide-born 24-year-old playing the sort of gutsy innings that his more experienced teammates couldn't match.
All of Australia's top four were back in the pavilion without passing 30, with Aaron Finch (0) and Shaun Marsh (2) notable failures.
It once again reinforced how much Australia are missing Steve Smith and David Warner, who remain banned over their part in the South Africa ball-tampering affair.
"It was nice to do a job for the team and it will be an exciting day tomorrow," said Head.
"We hung in there. India bowled exceptionally well. It was (a) fantastic little fightback in the end and it will be an important first hour tomorrow. Every run will valuable."
Debutant Marcus Harris, who made 26, added: "It was a tough day, it wasn't easy to score. I think we're in a decent position."
Ashwin agreed that the Test match for there for the taking.
"I see it as neck and neck as far as the game goes right now," he said.
India resumed on 250-9, but they were unable to add to the total with tailender Mohammed Shami out for six on the first ball of the day, caught behind by Tim Paine off Josh Hazlewood, leaving Bumrah unbeaten on 0.
Hazlewood finished with 3-52. Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon all took two wickets each.