Alastair Cook's tourists, needing a draw in Nagpur to close out a series victory, lost both openers - their captain and Nick Compton - to India's lone pace bowler Ishant Sharma inside the first hour.
But Pietersen (73) and Jonathan Trott then shared a hard-working stand of 86 in 39 overs after England had chosen to bat first, before Matt Prior and debutant Joe Root put together an unbroken 50 partnership.
Compton was the first to be undone in slow-motion when a short delivery produced only looping, disorientating bounce and resulted in a thin edge which barely carried to the wicketkeeper.
Cook needed 15 balls to get off the mark, as Pragyan Ojha took the new ball in the absence of a second seamer, and tried to out-bore the England captain with a seven-two leg-side field and negative line, while Trott was fortunate to survive on seven when he played too soon at a length ball and was hit on the pad.
Sharma was convinced the lbw was stone-dead, but umpire Kumar Dharmasena made the marginal call that ball had hit pad just outside the line of off-stump. Cook found himself on the other side of a similar ruling soon afterwards from Dharmasena - and although it looked as if he was hit outside the line, this time he had to go lbw.
England were in danger of fluffing their lines just when they need one more confident performance to complete their mission improbable on this tour. But Trott and Pietersen provided some much-needed stability as they gradually attuned themselves to an unfamiliar experience, even by sub-continental standards.
Trott dug in for 133 balls until a misjudgment against slow left-armer Ravindra Jadeja saw him wave through an arm ball which bowled him off-stump. Ian Bell disappointed, making only a single in 28 balls before poking a straightforward catch to cover off Piyush Chawla.
Pietersen, who showed his class and also escaped a half-chance on 61, shepherded Root through to tea. But there was to be no record-equalling 23rd Test century, the former neatly caught low down by Ojha when he again chipped to midwicket - this time advancing to Jadeja.
Prior joined Root, and the struggle continued - favourably for England, though - for the remainder of the evening session.
- Sports & Recreation
- Alastair Cook
- Jonathan Trott
- Nick Compton
- Ishant Sharma