Early tea-break was called after Stuart Broad (6/25) and James Anderson (3/46) ran through the Indian line-up with as many as six batsmen dismissed for duck at Old Trafford.
Dhoni, who hit 15 fours while facing 133 balls, was accompanied by Ravindra Jadeja (0) as the two walked out after lunch. But the latter did not stick around for long, as Anderson trapped him LBW. His wicket meant that India had lost two batsmen for one run in the space of 20 balls on either side of the lunch break.
R Ashwin (40) was the next man in and he had a lot at stake, playing his first Test of the series.
The two batsmen built a decent partnership, as Ashwin played some good shots on either side of the wicket while Dhoni continued his maverick approach from the first session.
They brought up the 100-run mark in the 34th over and were helped in their cause by wicketkeeper Jos Buttler, dropping Ashwin -- on 26 then -- in the next over.
In the 36th over of the innings, the duo brought up their 50-run partnership and it looked as if they will be able to dig India out of this massive hole and get to a respectable total.
But it was not to be as Broad was deployed once again. It resulted in Ashwin's wicket who played a false stroke off a short ball and was caught in the deep by Sam Robson, falling to the trap he was set-up for. Ashwin scored 40 runs off 42 balls, with three fours and one six, but got out without reason.
At the other end, Dhoni celebrated his fifty off 115 balls, hitting 11 fours, an innings to be remembered for some time. Broad then made short work of the Indian lower-order, taking four wickets for six runs in the space of 21 balls.
He began by bowling Bhuvneshwar Kumar (0) in the 43rd over. He got Dhoni next in the 47th over, after the 150-run mark had come up an over earlier, and finally the Indian innings was wrapped up in 48th over as Broad bowled Pankaj Singh (0) too.
The third fifty of innings had come off only 71 balls, the quickest of the three, thanks to the Ashwin-Dhoni stand. Varun Aaron (1 not out) was the unbeaten batsman with Chris Woakes (0/43) and Chris Jordan (1/27) the other bowlers used.
Earlier, India were reduced to eight for four at one stage in the morning session before a 54-run fifth wicket partnership between Ajinkya Rahane (24 off 52 balls; 3x4) and Dhoni had taken them to 63/5 at lunch.
Play had been delayed for half an hour owing to morning showers. When the toss did take place at 11 am, Dhoni called correctly and elected to bat first on a fresh, juicy pitch under intense cloud cover. It was not the best decision but the visitors' hands were perhaps tied from the fact that they were fielding two spinners in their eleven.
India then needed a tall first innings score to bring them into play but England had other plans. Anderson and Broad made the ball do a lot in their initial spells and the Indian top-order just had no answers. Gautam Gambhir (4) was the first to go, caught at gully, as the ball bounced a little more after straightening up.
Anderson then delivered a beautiful out-swinger to the in-form Murali Vijay (0) who had no option but to play at it, edging to skipper Alastair Cook at first slip. India were reeling at eight for two and Virat Kohli (0), averaging 16.83 in three Tests this series, walked out to bat. Two balls later, he was walking back, caught at first slip just like Vijay, with Anderson bringing up another good out-swinger.
India lost their fourth wicket for no runs in the space of 12 balls, as Cheteshwar Pujara (0) played a poor shot to a full delivery off Broad, caught in the cordon too, as India collapsed to 8/4 in the sixth over.
Rahane looked solid, leaving the ball better than batsmen before him, while Dhoni played his usual brand of cricket, playing and missing at times, attacking at other times. Against all odds, the pair brought up the 50-run mark for India in the 19th over of the innings, as the skies began to clear out.
They brought up their 50-run partnership in the 23rd over thereafter. And just when it appeared that they had seen off the session without any further damage, Jordan struck a telling blow as Rahane went for an expansive drive and edged to Ian Bell at second slip. It brought out Jadeja who was once again booed by the crowd as he walked in to bat.