Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann hit half-centuries to rescue England on the opening day of their Ashes warm-up match against Essex at Chelmsford.
The eighth-wicket pair shared an unbroken stand of 116 to leave England on 328-7 at the close, Bresnan unbeaten on 55 and Swann 62 not out.
Essex leg-spinner Tom Craddock had a day to remember with the wickets of Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Matt Prior on the way to figures of 3-67, while seamers Tymal Mills (2-80) and Sajid Mahmood (2-60) each struck twice.
When Mahmood bowled Jonathan Bairstow for 23 offering no stroke just after tea, England were 212-7 and in danger of failing to make the most of a good pitch.
But Bresnan and Swann batted throughout the remainder of the first of four days to bail out their top-order colleagues.
England left out Stuart Broad as a precaution due to a stiff shoulder and opted to rest James Anderson for their final fixture before the Ashes starts at Trent Bridge on July 10.
All of the specialist batsmen made it to double figures but none was able to register a half-century after Essex stand-in skipper Ravi Bopara had generously invited them to bat.
Joe Root, preferred to Nick Compton as England captain Alastair Cook's opening partner, was struck a painful blow on the left knee by the rapid Mills early on.
Left-armer Mills made the first breakthrough in the eighth over when Cook (18) was caught behind cutting and Root, still in discomfort, edged a Mahmood delivery low to second slip to depart for 41.
Kevin Pietersen looked to dominate from the off, scoring his first 16 runs in boundaries while Jonathan Trott was content to play a supporting role.
Trott (32) edged behind pushing forward to Mills prior to lunch to reduce England to 115-3 but Pietersen continued to play his shots on his first-class return for his country after three months out with bone bruising behind his right knee.
He had advanced to 49 when Craddock, who had dropped a hard chance from Pietersen in his first over, held on to a head-high return drive to send him on his way.
And the leg-spinner added the wicket of Bell (13) in his next over, albeit with the considerable assistance of short-leg Jaik Mickleburgh, who anticipated Bell's dab-sweep and took a diving catch.
Prior (20) became Craddock's third victim, edging a defensive prod behind and Bairstow's poor judgment to a delivery from Mahmood that tailed back slightly to hit off-stump left England in trouble.
But Bresnan and Swann put the pitch - and bowling attack - in perspective during the rest of the evening session, both growing in confidence and range of strokes as their century partnership progressed.