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India captain Virat Kohli hit his second successive half-century but could not go beyond 50 at the Oval on Thursday as the tourists suffered their latest top-order collapse against England.
India were 122-6 at tea on the first day of the fourth Test after losing the toss in overcast conditions that favoured England's quicks.
Chris Woakes had impressive figures of 2-19 in 10 overs on his international return.
Despite their struggles, it was an improvement on India's paltry 78 all out during their innings defeat at Headingley last week, which enabled England to level the five-Test series at 1-1.
Star batsman Kohli, without a hundred at Test level in nearly two years, had looked in good touch on Thursday apart from when he was dropped on 22 by England captain Joe Root at first slip off Woakes.
But a 96-ball innings, featuring eight fours, ended in curious fashion when, trying to turn seamer Ollie Robinson legside, Kohli edged behind to wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow for exactly 50.
Kohli's exit -- the third time he has fallen to Robinson in the series -- left India struggling at 105-5.
The India skipper scored 55 in the second innings at Headingley but his patchy form has been in stark contrast to that of Root, who has scored hundreds in each of the first three matches of this series and has six Test centuries for the calendar year.
That has lifted the England skipper to top spot in the latest International Cricket Council Test batting rankings.
- Woakes strikes -
Woakes, recalled in place of the under-performing Sam Curran after a year out of the side due to injury and coronavirus-related issues, took little time to justify the faith of England coach Chris Silverwood.
Coming on as first change, the last ball of his opening over was a steeply rising delivery that Rohit Sharma (11) could only fend to wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow, who made good ground to hold a safe catch.
Warwickshire all-rounder Woakes bowled three consecutive maidens before India's 28-1 became 28-2 when Robinson, who took Test-best match figures of 7-81 at Headingley, had KL Rahul lbw for 17 with a ball that cut back in off the pitch.
Cheteshwar Pujara had checked England's progress at Headingley with a well-made 91 but managed just four in 31 balls, edging an angled-in delivery from James Anderson straight to Bairstow.
The Yorkshireman is back behind the stumps after regular wicketkeeper Jos Buttler missed this match to attend the birth of his second child.
India were now 39-3 in the 20th over.
Next in was Ravindra Jadeja, rather than regular number five Ajinkya Rahane.
Rahane, India's vice-captain, had scored just 95 runs in the series at an average of 19, whereas left-hander Jadeja had made 133 runs at 26, but the decision represented a lack of confidence in Rahane.
Jadeja, however, was caught low down by Root off Woakes for just 10 and the struggling Rahane took 47 balls for a 14 that ended when he was well-held by Moeen Ali at third slip off Craig Overton.