In truth, though, it was a day that spoke more of India's frailty than any great potency in the England bowling performance, which was flattered by some outstanding catching. Only a drop at cover by Nasser Hussain, in the second over of the day, blotted an otherwise unblemished fielding performance.
India have not played much Test cricket of late and it showed, their batting typified by a restlessness of spirit and a looseness of stroke, both by-products of the high octane that fuels the one-day game. Only Vikram Rathore and Sunil Joshi could claim a decent ball undid them, a poor proportion on a pitch which - tame in comparison to last year's bone breaker - demanded patience and application.
Having won the toss, Mohammad Azharuddin decided to bat, which was the correct decision despite the presence of moisture in the surface and four nervous debutants in the side. In that respect they just pipped England, who awarded new caps to Alan Mullally, Min Patel and Ronnie Irani, after sending Peter Martin and John Crawley back to county duty with Lancashire. At tea, with India reeling on 162 for 8, both Mullally and Irani had got among the wickets, although Patel had yet to bowl.
However, it was Chris Lewis, rehabilitated for the umpteenth time, who made the first inroad into India's hollow interior when he had Ajay Jadeja caught low in the gully by Atherton, off a sliced cover drive.
Both Lewis and Dominic Cork, who shared the new ball with him, extracted some variable bounce, particularly when the ball was short, which is what caused the majority of the problems last year, but India's collapse was facilitated when their No 3, Sanjay Manjrekar, was forced to leave the field after twisting an ankle in turning for a third run.
Until then, India were tootling along nicely at 40 for 1 but, before Atherton could make any changes, there was suddenly no need. Rathore, never a man for expansive foot movement, edged an attempted drive to Nick Knight at third slip.
It was the first of a hat-trick of catches for Knight, whose next, to remove Azharuddin, is unlikely to be bettered all summer. Deliberately positioned closer than usual at square-leg by his captain, Knight dived full length to his left to make a back-handed catch with his right hand.
It was an unexpected dismissal and it brought Irani a first Test wicket with his fifth ball. Had the Essex player been an old hand he would have known that a leg-stump half-volley is a dangerous delivery. As it was, the trademark shot that has brought Azharuddin well over half his Test runs proved his downfall.
Worse was to follow, when Sachin Tendulkar, known in India as the "unbowlable" was bowled by Cork, hitting across a straight half-volley. Believe it or not, since 15 December 1994, Tendulkar has scored fewer Test runs than either Devon Malcolm or Angus Fraser, a statistic due more to a criminal lack of Test cricket than an enhancement of the former England bowler's technique.
An almost identical dismissal from the other end sent Nayan Mongia back, Mullally fully deserving his first Test wicket, which was warmly applauded by a half-full stadium. He added two more - one a smart catch at first slip by Graham Thorpe- to finish a first day's work with figures of 3 for 60, a satisfying start to a bowling career at this level.
It was Cork, though, who again who provided the important breakthroughs. He has bowled better and was a yard short of his optimum length, as was Lewis, who finished with two wickets to Cork's four.
When England batted, it looked another game, a day's sunshine and another rolling removing the moisture that had lain within earlier in the day. Knight batted like a man who knows his home patch.
Well behind the ball in defence he was quick to hit anything loose with a crispness that had eluded all but Javagal Srinath, who top-scored for India.
If England could be criticised, it was for the passage of play that allowed him and Paras Mhambrey to add 53 runs for the ninth wicket but, if Atherton was guilty of letting his bowlers relax, his captaincy was generally of a high order.
India won toss
INDIA - First innings
V Rathore c Knight b Cork 20
(66 min, 52 balls, 1 four)
A D Jadeja c Atherton b Lewis 0
(17 min, 9 balls)
S V Manjrekar c Atherton b Lewis 23
(67 min, 47 balls, 4 fours)
S R Tendulkar b Cork 24
(70 min, 41 balls, 4 fours)
*M Azharuddin c Knight b Irani 13
(30 min, 27 balls, 3 fours)
N R Mongia b Mullally 20
(48 min, 39 balls, 4 fours)
S Joshi c Thorpe b Mullally 12
(93 min, 64 balls, 1 four)
A Kumble c Knight b Cork 5
(13 min, 8 balls, 1 four)
J Srinath c Russell b Mullally 52
(91 min, 65 balls, 9 fours)
P L Mhambrey c Thorpe b Cork 28
(73 min, 49 balls, 4 fours)
B K V Prasad not out 0
(25 min, 18 balls)
Extras (b3, lb10, nb4) 17
Total (304 min, 69.1 overs) 214
Fall: 1-8 (Jadeja), 2-41 (Rathore), 3-64 (Azharuddin), 4-93 (Tendulkar), 5-103 (Mongia), 6-118 (Manjrekar), 7-127 (Kumble), 8-150 (Joshi), 9-203 (Srinath).
Bowling: Lewis 18-2-44-2 (5-1-10-1, 4-0-10-0, 5-1-17-1, 1-0-1-0, 3-0- 6-0); Cork 20.1-5-61-4 (nb3) (4-1-6-0, 5-1-15-1, 4-2-11-1, 5-1-11-1, 2- 0-18-0, 0.1-0-0-1); Mullally 22-7-60-3 (nb1) (6-1-19-0, 7-3-21-1, 9-3- 20-2); Irani 7-4-22-1 (3-2-10-1, 4-2-12-0); Patel 2-0-14-0 (one spell).
Progress: Manjrekar retired hurt (10) at 40-1 (14.2 overs) and returned at 103-5. 50: 84 min, 18.5 overs. Lunch: 80-3 (Tendulkar 20, Mongia 4) 27 overs. 100: 141 min, 32 overs. 150 in 227 min, 51.4 overs. Tea: 162- 8 (Srinath 28, Mhambrey 1) 55 overs. 200: 275 min, 62.3 overs. Innings closed: 5.01pm.
Srinath 50: 80 min, 54 balls, 9 fours.
ENGLAND - First innings
N V Knight not out 27
(78 min, 46 balls, 4 fours)
*M A Atherton not out 31
(78 min, 69 balls, 5 fours)
Extras (lb1, nb1) 2
Total (for 0, 78 min, 19 overs) 60
To bat: N Hussain, G A Hick, G P Thorpe, R C Russell, R C Irani, C C Lewis, D G Cork, M M Patel, A D Mullally.
Bowling: Srinath 6-0-25-0 (4-0-17-0, 2-0-8-0); Prasad 7-2-7-0; Kumble 4-0-21-0; Mhambrey 2-0-6-0 (nb1) (one spell each).
Progress: 50: 60 min, 15.1 overs.
Umpires: D B Hair (Aus) and D R Shepherd.