England endured a humbling collapse on the third afternoon of the first Investec Test against India, losing six wickets for 74 in a match-turning session at Trent Bridge.

Having safely negotiated a low-key morning session without losing a wicket, England went from 131 for one to 205 for seven between lunch and tea as the tourists, still 252 ahead, took control.

Ishant Sharma provided the impetus with a three-wicket burst that accounted for half-centurions Sam Robson (59) and Gary Ballance (71) as well as Ian Bell, before England's next three wickets tumbled for the addition of just five runs.

Of those Matt Prior was incorrectly given caught behind, but the hosts were otherwise short of excuses on a pitch they have publicly bemoaned for offering no help to bowlers.

Overhead conditions - cloudy and close for the first time in the match - suggested England might be in for a slightly tougher morning than their opponents had enjoyed on the first two days but Robson and Ballance soon dispelled any such concerns.

Resuming on 43 for one they gritted their teeth and settled in on a track on a slow, low track that has been even more vilified than struggling captain Alastair Cook this week.

Ballance took 18 deliveries to open his account for the day but Robson ensured things did not grind to a standstill by poaching three boundaries in the space off the lukewarm Mohammed Shami.

Despite that flurry of activity England still added just 34 in a tepid first hour.

The emergence of Ballance from his shell lifted things after drinks, the number three suddenly finding a sense of fluency as he struck six boundaries in 17 deliveries - Ishant and debutant Stuart Binny both dropping short and inviting him to open his arms.

That saw Ballance overtake Robson, who had slowed to a crawl since passing 40, and both men reached their half-centuries by steering Binny behind square for four.

England took lunch on 131 for one, a promising foundation for a sizeable total, only to lose Robson nine balls into the afternoon session.

Ishant was the bowler, winning a passionate lbw appeal that may have belied a slight inside edge. Replays were inconclusive but the lack of DRS during this series rendered that an irrelevance.

Ishant's first ball to Bell disappeared to the long-leg boundary but he enjoyed a second success soon after, this time earning an incontestable leg before decision against Ballance.

England were vulnerable on 154 for three and even more so at 172 for four once the impressive Ishant had added the vital wicket of Bell.

In Kevin Pietersen's absence the 32-year-old has emerged as the prize scalp of England's middle order and he gave it away in puzzling fashion.

He shaped to cut a short ball, made a late decision to bail out and somehow managed to run it straight into the gloves of Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

England were being overrun by Ishant, an unlikely scenario given the lack of terror in the playing surface, and continued their wobble even after he left the attack.

Joe Root and Moeen Ali added 25 for the fifth wicket, with the latter looking rather more composed than his partner up until the point that he turned his back on a Shami bouncer.

Moeen was not even looking when it clattered him on the glove and looped gently to Shikhar Dhawan at slip.

What was already a sorely disappointing session soon became a dismal one as Prior and Ben Stokes joined the procession in the space of three balls.

Prior was unlucky, the victim of a perplexing caught behind decision.

Dhoni had just come up to the stumps and made a smart take off Shami, but the key element of an edge was striking by its absence.

Stokes could claim no such error, nicking his second ball to the waiting India skipper.