Ollie Pope and Jos Buttler made their first big scores of the series in putting on an unbeaten stand of 136 runs to rebuild England's innings against the West Indies and put the hosts on top on day one of the deciding test at Old Trafford on Friday.
England recovered from 122-4 just before tea to close on 258-4, with Pope on 91 as he goes in search of his second test century and Buttler on 56.
Both players were under pressure to deliver in the third test after underwhelming performances so far in this series. Buttler, in particular, is feeling the heat from Ben Foakes for the wicketkeeper position and a first half-century in tests since September justified the selectors' backing of the limited-overs specialist.
Buttler smashed recalled spinner Rahkeem Cornwall for two sixes in the same over — one over deep midwicket and the other over long-on — but otherwise stayed measured and largely restrained in a 120-ball knock. His one and only test century came two years ago against India.
Pope, whose highest score in this series was 12, compiled his runs quicker — a rarity for a batsman alongside Buttler — and struck 11 fours before bad light stopped play for the day about 10 minutes before the scheduled end in Manchester.
Before Pope and Buttler came together, the wisdom of England deploying a truncated batting lineup and including four fast bowlers along with a spinner was being questioned.
Dom Sibley (0) departed off the sixth ball of the day after playing across Kemar Roach and getting trapped lbw, and captain Joe Root, attempting a quick single, was run out by Roston Chase's direct throw for 17 just before lunch.
When Ben Stokes — promoted to No. 4 and playing as a specialist batsman — was bowled through the gate by Roach for 20, England was 92-3 and its batting lineup was suddenly looking wafer thin.
Rory Burns (57) then edged Chase to slip, where the burly Cornwall took a brilliant, instinctive one-handed catch.
England responded well, though, and moved into a strong position to win a series that is poised at 1-1.
The Windies, who won the first test in Southampton, are looking to capture a test series in England for the first time since 1988.
Roach has 2-56 off 18.4 overs, and needs one more wicket for 200 in tests.