London: India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni's defiant unbeaten fifty prevented total embarrassment against England as wickets tumbled around him on the first day of the fifth Test at The Oval on Friday.
At tea, India were 125 for nine with Dhoni 65 not out — 52 per cent of his side's runs — and last man Ishant Sharma unbeaten on two.
As in their innings and 54-run defeat in the fourth Test at Old Trafford that left then 2-1 down in the five-match series, India lost five wickets before lunch with their top order lacking the technique or the application to cope with deliveries that swung and seamed off the pitch.
Only Murali Vijay (18) and Ravichandran Ashwin (13) had so far joined Dhoni into making it into double figures.
The most experienced member of India's side, Dhoni had top-scored with 71 in India's first innings 152 in Manchester.
Thursday saw Dhoni joking about his "horrible" batting technique but no one could fault his resolve.
England captain Alastair Cook decided to probe India's fragile batting after winning the toss on a green-tinged pitch in overcast conditions that promised to aid swing movement.
And he was rewarded with a wicket off just the fourth ball of the day.
James Anderson, who started this match seven wickets shy of Ian Botham's England record of 383 Test wickets, had opener Gautam Gambhir, trying to withdraw his bat, caught behind for a golden duck by wicketkeeper Jos Buttler.
Stuart Broad, passed fit despite suffering a broken nose while batting in Manchester, then dismissed Cheteshwar Pujara (four) when the ball deflected off his pad onto his arm and then hit the stumps.
Virat Kohli had arrived in England with a stellar reputation as one of the world's best young batsmen.
But his miserable series continued when, playing no stroke, he was lbw to first change Chris Jordan for six.
Sri Lankan umpire Kumar Dharmasena took his time over the decision but Kohli had to go, with his latest exit leaving him with 114 runs in nine innings this series at a lowly average of 12.66.
Jordan then caught and bowled Ajinkya Rahane for the first duck of his Test career.
Vijay survived for more than 90 minutes but he fell when edging Chris Woakes, like Jordan, a seam-bowling all-rounder, to Joe Root at fourth slip.
India were now 36 for five inside 19 overs, an even worse collapse than they suffered on the first day at Old Trafford where, after Dhoni won the toss, they were reduced to 62 for five inside 24 overs.
At lunch, India were 43 for five, with Dhoni six not out.
That soon became 44 for six when recalled all-rounder Stuart Binny edged a full length Anderson delivery that swung late to Cook at first slip.
Ashwin was then well caught low down by Root at fourth slip off Woakes while Buttler, moving well to his right, held a two-handed catch after Bhuvneshwar Kumar chased a wide delivery from Jordan.
India were now 79 for eight.
They should have been all out for 95 when fit-again fast bowler Sharma edged Jordan to second slip only for Ian Bell, going to his right, to drop the catch.
Dhoni then slashed Jordan over the cordon for a four that took India to a hundred before his leg-glanced four off Woakes, saw him to an admirable fifty where 40 runs of his runs had come in boundaries.
With India nine down, tea was delayed by 30 minutes.
But rather than England taking the last wicket, Dhoni drove Jordan back over his head for a cavalier six.