New Delhi: Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni marked his return to form with a blistering counterattack before India were bundled out for 224 in their first innings to give England an early control in the third cricket Test at Edgbaston on Wednesday.

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Put into bat, India were precariously placed at 111 for seven before Dhoni (77) produced a stunning array of stroke play to give some respectability to the Indian total.

Dhoni, who has been struggling with form right through the series, found an able ally in Praveen Kumar (26) as they put on 84 runs for the eighth wicket on a Edgbaston track which seemed to have no demons after the first hour’s play.

In reply, England openers Andrew Strauss (51) and Alistair Cook (26) helped the hosts to reach 84 for no loss at close on the opening day, trailing India by 140 runs in their first innings.

Tim Bresnan and Stuart Broad were the chief wreckers for England as they claimed four wickets each.

India had themselves to blame for the shocking collapse as most of the batsman perished to either poor shot selections or horrendous strokes. Only Rahul Dravid was dismissed by a gem of a delivery by Bresnan.

Earlier, returning to action after missing the first two Tests, opener Virender Sehwag couldn’t make any impact as India’s famed batting lineup fall like a house of cards to be reduced to 100 for six in 34.4 overs.

India’s top-order floundered once again in the face of some hostile pace bowling as openers Gautam Gambhir (38) and Virender Sehwag (0) as well as Sachin Tendulkar (1) and Rahul Dravid (22) were sent packing in the pre-lunch session.

The visitors fate didn’t change much after lunch as India lost the wickets of Suresh Raina (2), VVS Laxman (30) and Amit Mishra (4) in no time and if it had not been for Dhoni, things could have been more embarrassing for India.

Dhoni took 16 balls to get off the mark — through a pre-determined push to covers off Bresnan — but then took the attack to the opposition camp on an increasingly slow Edgbaston pitch.

The skipper straight drove and pulled James Anderson for fours and then played Stuart Broad off the backfoot before pulling him for a four.

In his groove, Dhoni smote Anderson over mid-on for six and then lifted Tim Bresnan over midwicket for another maximum.

He reached his half century when he off-drove Graeme Swann, introduced into the attack in the 47th over, having faced 63 balls. He hit seven fours and two sixes.

Kumar, at the other end, was an ideal foil to his skipper. He too hit some effective boundaries, showing no respect to Swann, whom he also lofted for a six.

England finally made a breakthrough when Bresnan dug in a short delivery and a reflex pull from Kumar only resulted in an edge to wicketkeeper Matt Prior.

Ishant Sharma (4) next joined Dhoni and the duo added 29 for the ninth wicket before Dhoni edged an extravagant hit into the hands of lone slip fielder.

Ishant was brilliantly caught at silly point by Cook to bring the innings to an end as Indians, for the fifth time in the series, had failed to muster 300 on the board.

When England batted, they played out the first three overs as maidens before both Strauss and Cook registered their highest scores and put on the biggest opening stand yet for England of the series.

Strauss took 14 balls to get off the mark and there was another spell when he was scoreless for 20 balls. But in between, he reeled off some delightful strokes off the front and backfoot and there were commanding pulls to boot during his knock.

Cook, after initial unease against Praveen Kumar, played an ideal foil to make it an out-and-out England day at Edgbaston.
A flick for a single off Sharma brought the 50 up for England captain, this being his first half century from six Tests in the ongoing English summer. Strauss hit 10 fours in his half century while facing 76 deliveries.

Earlier, Virender Sehwag's return was spoilt by Broad who dismissed him in the first ball that he faced. But India appeared to have overcome the early blow when Gambhir and Dravid were at the crease but disaster struck when the left-hander, after facing 64 balls, played on to a Bresnan delivery with the score at 59 for one.

The visitors were in for more trouble as Broad induced an edge from Tendulkar (1) but the biggest blow for the visitors came when Bresnan dismissed the in-form Dravid with a peach of a delivery which straightened after landing in the last over before the lunch break.

Suresh Raina, continuing with his unconvincing display against pacers on this tour, made only two from 21 balls before Anderson rattled his stumps.

VVS Laxman, who twice hit Bresnan for fours through the off-side in one over, pulled at a short delivery and was easily caught at midwicket as the Indians slipped to 100 for six.

Leg-spinner Amit Mishra hung around for 13 balls before edging Broad.

Teams:

England: Andrew Strauss (capt), Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara, Eoin Morgan, Matt Prior (wk), Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Tim Bresnan.

India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Suresh Raina, Praveen Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Amit Mishra, Munaf Patel, S Sreesanth.

Match starts at 3:30 PM IST.

(JPN/Agencies)