On Sunday, India left England in need of a record-breaking total if England were to win the third and final Test at The Oval.
At stumps on the fourth day, England were 56 without loss and needed a further 444 runs to reach a fourth innings victory total of 500.
That was way in excess of the current Test record of 418 for seven made by West Indies against Australia in Antigua four years ago.
However, Andrew Strauss was 23 not out and Alastair Cook 27 not out after they had batted for 20 overs before the close.
"We are pretty pleased," said England fast bowler James Anderson, who rocked India with a burst of two wickets in four maiden overs with the new ball.
"It was a tricky 20 overs for us there and we are pretty happy we got through it," he said. "Our first goal is to save the game and then, if we can keep wickets in hand, we can have a look at where we are."
India, 1-0 up after a seven-wicket win at Trent Bridge following a gutsy draw at Lord's, were themselves on the verge of making history.
They needed to avoid defeat in yesterday's final day to become only the third India side, after their 1971 and 1986 predecessors, to win a Test series in England in 15 tours dating back 75 years.
Victory for England would see them maintain a six-year unbeaten run in home Test series, encompassing eight wins and three draws in 11 campaigns since losing the 2001 Ashes.
England, outplayed for the first three days, had a glimmer of hope when they reduced India to 11 for three in their second innings with Anderson capturing the prize wicket of Sachin Tendulkar, in what could be his last Test in this country, for one.
But experienced left-hander Sourav Ganguly hit back with a dashing 57.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni (36) and VVS Laxman, unbeaten on 48 when the declaration came at 180 for six, added impetus with a stand of 69.
India were 319 runs ahead on first innings, but team manager Chandu Borde defended the decision not to enforce the follow-on.
"Knowing the history of this wicket, we chased over 400 runs and we almost won that time [in 1979]," he said.
"The wicket is playing beautifully. It is not turning or helping the spinners as much as we expected," he added.
"Our bowlers were also tired," he said. "We wanted them to be fresh to attack the England batsmen and that's why we didn't enforce the follow-on."