Alastair Cook bagged his second half-century of the match before setting India a world-record chase of 445 to win the third Investec Test at the Ageas Bowl.
The captain confirmed his return to form by helping England to 205 for four before calling time on their second innings and leaving his bowlers the task of bowling out India again in just over four remaining sessions for a series-levelling victory.
Cook unsurprisingly opted against enforcing the follow-on early on day four after James Anderson (five for 53) had marked his 32nd birthday by taking India's last two first-innings wickets quickly.
Anderson bounced out Mahendra Singh Dhoni and then Mohammed Shami in the space of six balls as the tourists were all out for 330.
Cook, however, was not tempted to put the tourists straight back in again - preferring a rest for his bowlers, who needed 106.1 overs to take 10 wickets first time round.
Instead, after Sam Robson edged some seam movement from Bhuvneshwar Kumar to slip, Cook (70no) provided the solidity and Yorkshire pair Gary Ballance and Joe Root (56) some much-needed impetus in half-century stands with their captain.
Ballance appeared a little unlucky to be given out caught at short-leg off Ravindra Jadeja (three for 52) to what was therefore the last ball of the morning.
But Ian Bell, like Ballance a first-innings centurion, kicked on too until Jadeja struck again by bowling him round his legs - and then Root joined in with a perky 38-ball half-century, containing eight fours, before he was bowled attempting a sweep to end a 99-run partnership and hasten England's second declaration of the match.
By then Cook, who fell just five runs short of ending his long century drought three days ago, had doubled up with his second 50 here - at a remarkably similar tempo to his first, from 93 balls.
Dhoni had earlier gloved an attempted hook behind without addition to the 50 he reached the previous evening, and then Shami was also snaffled by Jos Buttler as India managed to add only seven runs at the start of another glorious day.