Indore: India lost both their openers to reach 75 for two at lunch on the opening day of the third and final test against New Zealand on Saturday.
Cheteshwar Pujara was on 29 with skipper Virat Kohli (seven) at the other end.
The hosts, 2-0 up in the series, are looking for a clean sweep against New Zealand who yet again face the daunting task of batting in the fourth innings against India's spinners.
Kohli maintained his perfect toss record in the series and had little hesitation in batting first at Indore's Holkar stadium, which is hosting its first test.
The numerous cracks on the day one track encouraged New Zealand captain Kane Williamson, back in the squad after missing the second test with illness, to introduce spin as early as the fifth over and the decision immediately paid off.
Jeetan Patel struck with his fifth delivery when Murali Vijay (10) stepped out to flick the off-spinner and Tom Latham did not flinch and took a sharp catch at short leg.
It took injuries to openers Lokesh Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan to facilitate Gambhir's return to test cricket after a two-year gap and the left hander looked determined to make it count.
Gambhir opened his account with a punch through the off side for a boundary and nonchalantly pulled successive Matt Henry deliveries for six to signal his intent.
New Zealand attacked with spin from both ends for a while but it was pace bowler Trent Boult who struck the next blow with a good length delivery that nipped back and kept low to trap Gambhir in front for a fluent 29 that included three boundaries.
Pujara, whose last four innings in the series includes three fifties, hit four boundaries in his confident knock.