Cook steers England closer to comfortable victory

India 224 & 35-1 v England 710-7 - England lead by 451

Alastair Cook narrowly missed joining England's elite club of triple-centurions but nonetheless steered his team ever closer to number one Test status at Edgbaston today.

The opener defied a weary India attack - and the powerless Edgbaston floodlights - in a career-best 294 until he fell an hour before stumps in a total of 710 for seven declared on day three of this third npower Test.

Cook faced 545 balls over more than 12-and-a-half hours, before departing in anti-climax to a slash to deep point off Ishant Sharma.

There are therefore still only five Englishmen to have made 300 or more, after Cook batted throughout his country's third-highest innings total.

India, beginning again 486 runs adrift, appeared to have little chance of batting out more than two days to avoid a series-clinching 3-0 deficit which will also see England go above them to become the International Cricket Council's top Test team for the first time.

When Virender Sehwag recorded a king pair - out first ball, as he was in his first attempt on Wednesday - their position seemed still more perilous, but Rahul Dravid and Gautam Gambhir dug in to carry them to 35 for one at stumps.

Cook began this morning on 182 and, showing no apparent urgency to set up a declaration with so much time still left in this match, helped England plough well past the highest score at this venue.

His fourth-wicket stand with Eoin Morgan (104) realised 222, and did not falter even when England's unhurried progress was rudely interrupted by a combination of bad light and a mid-afternoon power cut.

Cook was still two runs short of his previous-best 235 not out when umpires Simon Taufel and Steve Davis surprisingly took the players off, to the evident bemusement of a sell-out crowd.

Floodlights are in use for this series, but were inoperable when needed as heavy clouds rolled over Birmingham and the tourists prepared to recall fast bowler Sharma to their attack.

After an unscheduled and bizarre 15-minute break, the umpires brought the players back out despite no discernible improvement in either the light, or the floodlights.

It took almost another hour for the bulbs to fire up properly again. But there was barely a flicker of any malfunction from the inexhaustible Cook, who remained utterly constant as England's sheet anchor.

It took him until the 45th over to register his second boundary of the day, a square-drive off Amit Mishra.

Morgan was playing a slightly more adventurous game but still needed 187 balls to record his second Test century as England took no chances in awkward batting conditions under constant cloud cover.

By contrast, after Morgan had slapped a catch to cover from Suresh Raina's off-spin, Ravi Bopara back-cut Mishra for a four from only the fifth ball he faced to bring up England's 600.

Sadly for Bopara, given a chance here in the temporary absence of the injured Jonathan Trott, he was to fall for only seven when he missed a Mishra leg-break and went lbw on the forward-defence.

Matt Prior was the next candidate to play a more attacking game around Cook. But he too fell cheaply to Mishra, mis-sweeping to be well-held by a tumbling Sachin Tendulkar at long-leg, the third England wicket for the addition of only 17 runs.

It was all, however, mere damage limitation for India.

Cook became responsible for the second-longest individual England innings in history, behind only Len Hutton during his all-time national record 364 against Australia at The Oval in 1938.

Back in the present, it is a measure of the hosts' superiority so far this summer that they now have eight century stands in the book - to India's one.

They did not have it especially easy today, however, despite the embarrassingly one-sided statistics on the scoreboard.

The admirable Praveen Kumar, and Shantha Sreesanth, regularly found swing - and gave relatively little away - and as India spurned a third new ball for more than an hour, Mishra (three for 150) kept plugging away.

But none could stop Cook, until his solitary misjudgment, which ended a partnership of 97 with Tim Bresnan - whose 72-ball 50 was brought up with a six bludgeoned over long-on off Sharma to also hoist the home 700.

India's reply could scarcely have started worse.

Destructive opener Sehwag, summoned into this match after missing the first two Tests with a shoulder injury, was portrayed as the man who might just be able to salvage India's troubled tour.

But having gloved a catch behind trying to leave a ball from Stuart Broad first time round, today he went after a wide one from James Anderson and edged to first slip.

Click here for the final scorecard from Edgbaston.

PA

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