Travis Head struck a stubborn half-century to keep Australia in the hunt Friday after their top order slumped under sustained pressure from India's bowlers, leaving the first Test in Adelaide evenly poised.
Batting on his home ground, Head kept his cool in to remain 61 not out at stumps on day two, with Mitchell Starc alongside him, unbeaten on eight.
His efforts helped steer Australia to 191-7 in reply to India's 250.
Off-spinner Ravi Ashwin bowled superbly to take three wickets, while Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah bagged two scalps each.
All of Australia's top four were back in the pavilion without passing 30, with Aaron Finch (0) and Shaun Marsh (two) notable failures.
India resumed on 250-9, after a battling 123 from Cheteshwar Pujara, but they were unable to add to their overnight score with tailender Mohammed Shami out for six on the first ball of the day, caught behind by Tim Paine off Josh Hazlewood.
Hazlewood finished with figures of 3-52. Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon all took two wickets each.
In reply, Australia got off to a horrendous start with Finch's credentials as an opener again called into question after he was spectacularly bowled without scoring on only the third ball he faced.
A sharp incoming delivery from Sharma took out his middle and off stumps after getting an inside edge as Finch attempted a big booming drive.
Debutant Marcus Harris looked in a decent touch and unruffled by the occasion, hitting three fours in a solid 26.
But he was undone by a drifting ball from Ashwin, getting an edge to Murali Vijay at silly mid-off and ending a 45-run partnership with Usman Khawaja who was back after knee surgery.
Ashwin's off-spin was looking threatening and Marsh needlessly slashed at a wide delivery in the first over after lunch, dragging the ball onto his stumps.
Marsh has now slumped to six consecutive single-figure scores, failing to step up in the absence of veterans Smith and Warner.
Khawaja, whose Test preparations were disrupted after the shock arrest of his brother this week for allegedly framing a love-rival with a fake terror plot, was Ashwin's next victim.
Wicket-keeper Rishabh Pant took an excellent catch after a turning ball flicked off Khawaja's glove. He was out for 28 on a review decision.
A gritty knock from Peter Handscomb, brought into the side for all-rounder Mitch Marsh, ended on 34 soon after tea with Bumrah breaking what was shaping as a handy partnership with Head.
It brought Paine to the crease, but he was unable to stop the rot and added only five runs before becoming Sharma's second scalp.
Cummins joined Head and they began to find gaps in the field as India tired, putting on a 50-run stand before Cummins was lbw to Bumrah for 10 late in the day.