Tendulkar played a composed innings under pressure facing 155 balls and hitting 13 boundaries in the process. His partnership of 79 for the fifth wicket with Yuvraj Singh was the highlight of the Indian innings as most of the other top order batsman failed to capitalise on starts.
He missed a century when he was forced to edge one off seamer Jimmy Anderson and the catch was taken by wicketkeeper Matt Prior diving to his right.
Anderson got the ball to reverse consistently in the post tea session which saw England get three wickets after getting two each in the first couple of sessions on a Eden Gardens track which appeared good for batting.
It was Tendulkar's first half-century since the Sydney Test as he appeared relieved after getting to the mark with a boundary of pacer Steven Finn.
Electing to bat on flat wicket that had little to offer, India had a promising start from Gautam Gambhir (60) and Virender Sehwag (23).
But Gambhir could not convert his fine start for yet another time, while Virat Kohli's poor form in the series continued as he could manage only six runs.
Anderson (3/68) rocked the home team at the fag end of the day with the second new ball. He bowled a perfect off-cutter that breached Ravichandran Ashwin's defence.
At stumps, skipper Dhoni was unbeaten on 22 (from 59 balls) along with Zaheer Khan who was yet to open his account. This is the first time that floodlights were used in a Test match at the Eden with the last 40 minutes being played under artificial lights.
It was a complete lack of application from the Indian batsmen while Sehwag's run-out can be attributed to his partner Gambhir's poor judgement.
The opening duo raced to 45 from 10 overs as Sehwag was found batting with consumate ease scoring run-a-ball before Gambhir's indiscretion ended his innings.
In display of poor communication, Gambhir did not listen to Sehwag's call, as he stood watching the ball while the right-hander almost reached the other end before Samit Patel completed an easy run-out.
The shocker in the 10.1 overs seemed to be a huge blow as India failed to recover from it to find themselves in a tricky situation.
After the departure of Sehwag who was looking fluent during his innings of 23, India struggled with Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli and Yuvraj who didn't make significant contributions.
In-form Cheteshwar Pujara managed only 16 this time before Monty Panesar's wrong 'un foxed him as it knocked his middle-stump back.
Tendulkar had to walk in just a quarter hour before lunch and was tested by Cook with both spinners as well as pacers.
Gambhir's Test century that has eluded him for nearly three years now didn't come this time as he tried to cut a rising delivery from Panesar which was too close to his body and the thickish edge flew to Jonathan Trott at slip. The left-hander faced 124 balls and hit 12 boundaries.
Kohli was done in by Anderson as the talented batsman edged one to the slip cordon.
At 136 for four, Yuvraj joined Tendulkar and both of them started the repair job. Tendulkar and Yuvraj started off cautiously before taking the attack back to the opposition camp.
Yuvraj hit back to back boundaries -- with one of them an elegant straight drive -- off Swann bringing smiles back in the Indian camp.
The hosts went into the tea session with the scoreboard reading 172 for four with Tendulkar batting on 46.
Just after the post-tea session started, Tendulkar clipped Finn towards long leg boundary to complete his 66th half century in Tests and acknowledged the cheers from the dressing room.
A flurry of boundaries followed from blades of the both batsmen as runs started coming quickly.
Most disappointing was Yuvraj who looked set having scored 32 and then got out in a tame fashion as he lobbed a simple catch to Alastair Cook in the short cover region while trying to punch a regular off-break from Graeme Swann.
The fact that India struggled to put on partnerships and failed to convert the good starts mounted the pressure on the subsequent batsmen.
The wicket was a typical Eden Gardens wicket where there was something for both batsmen and bowlers. While Anderson got the ball to move both ways, there was turn and bounce on offer for Panesar.
As far as the Indians were concerned, it was conducive for batting as Tendulkar and Gambhir's innings were prime examples but most of them save Sehwag were out playing poor shots.
As has been the case with Eden for decades, Anderson swung the ball prodigiously during the evening getting Tendulkar with and outswinger and Ashwin with an off-cutter.
In the only change to the Indian line-up, Ishant Sharma returned after a 10-month lay off as the lanky pacer was included in place of Harbhajan Singh. For England, Ian Bell and fast bowler Steven Finn replaced Jonny Bairstow and Stuart Board.
India lost the golden opportunity to score heavily on a batting pitch after winning the toss. Sehwag,Gambhir, Yuvraj and Sachin failed to capitalize their good start. Credit must be given to England bowlers for having an upper hand on a pitch favourable to the batsmen.