Comfortably placed at 131 for one during lunch, England lost six wickets for addition of 74 runs in the post-lunch session including a couple of debatable decisions as Ishant (3/64) along with Mohammed Shami (2/58) and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (2/35) ripped through the middle-order.
At the tea-break, the hosts were still trailing by 252 runs in the first innings, needing 53 more to avoid the follow-on, with ample time remaining in the match for the visitors to push for victory.
Joe Root (13 batting)and Stuart Broad (1 batting) were at the crease.
The post-lunch session started with Ishant striking in the very second over after lunch. However opener Sam Robson, who scored his maiden Test half-century, was unlucky to be given out leg before by Australian umpire Bruce Oxenford as there was clearly an inside edge.
It brought in-form Ian Bell to the crease and he started with a flurry of boundaries as the English 150 runs came up in the 55th over, with the out-of-shape ball also changed before that over.
Just afterwards though, Ishant made it a double strike as he trapped Gary Ballance leg before as well, a clean dismissal this time around with the ball jagging back in and befuddling the batsman. He scored 71 runs after facing 167 balls, inclusive of 9 fours.
That's when the slide began for England as five overs later Bell (25 runs, 37 balls, 6 fours) was caught behind, playing an unintelligent shot to a short ball from Sharma who snapped up his third wicket.
Moeen Ali (14 runs, 30 balls, 3 fours) then added 25 runs for the fifth wicket with Root, but he too misjudged another short delivery, this time from Shami as the ball looped up off his gloves and was caught in the slips.
Kumar then struck twice, removing Matt Prior (5) and Ben Stokes (0), both caught behind by Dhoni. The former though had cause for complaint as umpire Kumar Dharmasena adjudged him out when there was a clear gap between bat and ball.
It meant England lost six wickets in the session of 25 overs and scored only 74 runs.
Earlier, youngsters Ballance and Robson struck patient half-centuries as the home team reached 131 for one with the inexperienced Indian bowling attack failing to make inroads on a cloudy third morning.
Skipper Dhoni deployed all his five primary bowlers in the morning session, but none could make a lasting impression on the batsmen, who looked to be playing for time without much thought on scoring quickly, as 88 runs came in 31 overs in the first session of play.
Shami and Bhuvneshwar got things underway for India under some nice cloud cover after two days of bright sunshine.
They were perhaps hoping that this would help them in some way on an uncharacteristic flat track. Shami extracted a little more bounce on account of his extra pace and Kumar stuck to bowling wicket-to-wicket, unable to use the relatively seam friendly conditions.
It was Ishant, who looked to trouble the batsmen most in this session of play. He looked in nice rhythm, looking a completely different bowler to the one, who struggled through the two practice games in Leicester and Derbyshire.
He beat the bat on a few occasions, getting a couple edges as well, but none that could carry along to any fielders.
Dhoni resorted to Ravindra Jadeja (0-15) after only 15 overs had been bowled in the morning, in order to get some help from the almost sub-continental pitch.
But even the spinner couldn't dent the growing confidence of the two batsmen as they brought up the 100-run mark in the 40th over of the innings.