By allowing Ian Bell to continue his magisterial innings after tea yesterday, India averted a crisis. It would have rumbled on for weeks, perhaps years, and dominated the rest of this wonderful Test series.
That much was evident when India emerged on to the field and everyone on the ground still assumed Bell had been run out for 137 on the stroke of the interval. The players were greeted by a cacophony of boos which continued for perhaps 30 seconds and would have been repeated wherever they went for the rest of this tour.
This unwelcome chorus was halted gradually when the two England batsmen came down the pavilion steps. There was Eoin Morgan and alongside him, presumably no longer dismissed, was Bell. Once recognition dawned, the displeasure turned to joy and people began to stand and cheer. What they had considered to be a piece of sharp practice had been converted into a magnanimous gesture.
The substance of the second Test was temporarily submerged. England, thanks largely to Bell's brilliance, had forged a lead that put India in a perilous position and made it certain they would face at least a troublesome chase to win the match and level the series.
Bell had never been better than in making his 15th Test hundred, and first in Kevin Pietersen and then in Morgan he had found capable partners. It is a pity that was so quickly overwhelmed and that England's later dominance of a match they may now well win was also a mere by-product. On other days, the scoring of more than 400 runs in three sessions would be a considerable talking point. The 417 they accrued was more than they have made in a day anywhere since scoring 437 against Pakistan on this very ground in 1954.
India took Bell's wicket with the last ball before tea in one of those bizarre incidents that can occur only in cricket. Morgan had turned the ball from Ishant Sharma to deep backward square leg. The fielder Praveen Kumar set off in fairly desultory pursuit, rolled over the boundary rope as he dived for the ball and, from the lethargic manner with which he recovered it, appeared to assume it had gone for four.
Morgan and Bell meanwhile ran three, at which point Bell left his crease and began walking down the pitch, probably desperate for a cuppa. The throw came in from the boundary and M S Dhoni, India's captain, gathered it five yards from the stumps and lobbed the ball without urgency to Abhinav Mukund who gently removed the bails.
All hell was about to break loose, it seemed. The umpires, Asad Rauf at the bowler's end and Marais Erasmus at square leg – and, as it turned out, the business end – conferred. They went upstairs to the third umpire, established that it was not four, that the ball was not dead according to the rules because the over had not been officially called and that Bell was therefore out because he had left his ground.
There was a feeling of disbelief. It was a deeply unfortunate way for a great innings to be brought to a close but Bell had undoubtedly been dozy. As he realised he was being given out he protested that the over had been called. It had not.
Off the players went for tea with opinion divided. India were quite within their rights because the ball was still in play but they must have known that, at best, it was an unsatisfactory way to effect Bell's dismissal.
The nearest similar incident anyone could recall involved Alvin Kallicharran, the West Indies batsman, and Tony Greig, the England all-rounder, at Trinidad in 1974. Bernard Julien, at the striker's end, played the last ball of the day to silly point where Greig picked the ball up.
In turning, he spotted that Kallicharran had not only left his crease but continued walking towards the pavilion assuming that play was done for the day. In a flash Greig threw down the stumps, had his appeal upheld and provoked the kind of diplomatic incident which might very well have ensued yesterday. Overnight, Kallicharan was reinstated. After all these years, Greig still insists he was right.
Had India stuck to their guns, as many commentators insisted they were entitled to do, the crowd reaction alone showed how the tour would have progressed. The umpires played a blinder. They followed the letter of the law and gave India a chance to withdraw their appeal, which they declined.
It was during the break that Andy Flower, England's coach, and Andrew Strauss, the captain, took up the issue. They had been visibly annoyed when it happened and during the interval approached Duncan Fletcher and Dhoni, their respective Indian counterparts. After discussing it with the team, they acquiesced.
Purely for peace and harmony, it was the correct decision. Bell was guilty of daftness and in any other circumstances would have deserved to be out. But it was not as if India went helter-skelter to try to run him out. It was shoddy all round and what it would have provoked was not worth it.
Either way, the dynamic had altered. Although Bell was out soon afterwards, caught at slip after the ball rebounded from Dhoni's gloves – nothing unusual there – and body, England had begun to press their advantage. Statements were handed down as though on tablets of stone from the great and good, from the International Cricket Council and the England and Wales Cricket Board talking about the spirit of cricket. The right thing had been done but it was all unsatisfactory.
In the evening, India, who had been dreadful in the field all day appeared to lose heart. Upholding the spirit of cricket appeared to have done little for the spirit of their team. Although two quick wickets fell to the second new ball, Matt Prior passed fifty for the sixth time in nine innings in his usual rumbustious style. Tim Bresnan joined in and at stumps England led by 374 runs but the talk was all of Ian Bell and for entirely the wrong reason.
Stats magic: The numbers that matter from the fourth day
129 Andrew Strauss has not reached 40 in Test cricket this summer and his aggregate of runs, in eight innings against Sri Lanka and India, stands at just 129.
26 Ian Bell last batted at No 3 in a Test when England beat Australia at The Oval in 2009 to win the Ashes. That was 26 innings ago, since when Bell has gone in at No 5 or 6.
92 Bell's highest score in his 33 previous innings as a Test No 3 was 92, made against Pakistan in Lahore in 2005. He has scored most of his centuries (6) at No 6 but his highest average (65.26) is as a No 5
47.72 Geoffrey Boycott's career Test average, which Ian Bell snuck past yesterday afternoon. You could hear the great man spluttering in his TMS tea from here.
162 The partnership for the third wicket between Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen. It was their fifth partnership of three figures in the 38 times they have batted in Test matches for the third, fourth, fifth and seventh wickets and their second largest.
137 The score which Ian Bell had when he was out. He had batted for 228 minutes, faced 178 balls and hit 22 fours – and then he was reinstated.
Trent bridge scoreboard
Trent Bridge (Second & Third days of five): England are leading India by 374 runs with four second-innings wickets in hand
India won toss
England First Innings 221 (Broad 64)
India First Innings
Friday Overnight 24-1
R Dravid c Cook b Bresnan 117
235 balls 15 fours
V V S Laxman c Prior b Bresnan 54
112 balls 10 fours
S R Tendulkar c Strauss b Broad 16
34 balls 3 fours
S K Raina c Morgan b Anderson 12
22 balls 2 fours
Yuvraj Singh c Prior b Broad 62
115 balls 10 fours
*†M S Dhoni c Anderson b Broad 5
9 balls 1 four
Harbhajan Singh lbw b Broad 0
P S Kumar b Broad 0
I Sharma c Bell b Broad 3
S Sreesanth not out 7
6 balls 1 four
Extras (b4 lb3 w4 nb1) 12
Total (91.1 overs) 288
Fall: 1-0, 2-93, 3-119, 4-139, 5-267, 6-273, 7-273, 8-273, 9-273.
Bowling: J M Anderson 26-8-80-2 (1wd) (5-2-10-1; 4-1-14-0; 2-0-12-0; 9-3-28-1; 2-0-6-0; 4-2-10-0), S C J Broad 24.1-8-46-6 (1wd) (13-6-19-0; 6-0-22-1; 5.1-2-5-5), T T Bresnan 21-6-48-2 (1nb, 2wd) (3-0-7-0; 3-1-9-0; 6-2-15-1; 7-3-6-0; 2-0-11-1), I J L Trott 4-1-18-0 (4-1-18-0), G P Swann 12-0-76-0 (8-0-44-0; 4-0-32-0), K P Pietersen 4-0-13-0 (One Spell).
England Second Innings
*A J Strauss c Dhoni b Sreesanth 16
52 balls 1 four
A N Cook c Yuvraj Singh b Sharma 5
11 balls 1 four
I R Bell c Laxman b Yuvraj Singh 159
206 balls 24 fours
K P Pietersen c Dhoni b Sreesanth 63
120 balls 7 fours
E J G Morgan c Dhoni b Kumar 70
88 balls 1 six 8 fours
†M J Prior not out 64
55 balls 1 six 8 fours
I J L Trott c Dravid b Kumar 2
T T Bresnan not out 47
66 balls 9 fours
Extras (b9 lb3 w1 nb2) 15
Total (for 6, 101 overs) 441
Fall: 1-6, 2-57, 3-219, 4-323, 5-329, 6-339.
To bat: S C J Broad, G P Swann, J M Anderson.
Bowling: P S Kumar 29-5-93-2 (1wd) (3-1-3-0; 1-0-6-0; 5-1-21-0; 2-0-8-0; 7-1-19-0; 3-0-9-0; 4-2-15-2; 4-0-12-0), I Sharma 24-3-115-1 (3-1-9-1; 2-2-0-0; 1-0-4-0; 5-0-26-0; 4-0-23-0; 4-0-14-0; 3-0-30-0; 2-0-9-0), S Sreesanth 22-5-103-2 (2nb) (1-0-1-0; 8-3-22-1; 5-1-23-1; 2-0-23-0; 6-1-34-0), Yuvraj Singh 10-0-41-1 (2-0-6-0; 1-0-6-0; 5-0-19-1; 2-0-10-0), Harbhajan Singh 9-1-47-0 (3-0-18-0; 4-1-18-0; 2-0-11-0), S K Raina 7-0-30-0 (4-0-18-0; 3-0-12-0).
Progress: Second Day: India: 50 in 25.6 overs, 100 in 36.3 overs, 150 in 53.1 overs, 200 runs in 69.2 overs, 250 in 79.3 overs. Lunch: 117-2 in 43 overs (Dravid 44, Tendulkar 14), Tea: 215-4 in 73 overs (Dravid 83, Yuvraj Singh 43), Close: England 24-1 in 11 overs (Strauss 6, Bell 9). Laxman: 50 off 104 balls (10 fours), Dravid: 50 off 131 balls (10 fours), Yuvraj Singh: 50 off 94 balls (9 fours), Dravid: 100 off 209 balls (13 fours). Third Day: England 50 in 17.2 overs, 100 in 31.1 overs, 150 in 42.4 overs, 200 in 52.1 overs, 250 in 64.6 overs, 300 in 73.2 overs, 350 in 86.1 overs, 400 in 92.3 overs. Lunch: 130-2 in 38 overs (Bell 84, Pietersen 20), Tea: 254-4 in 66 overs (Morgan 21, Bell reprieved after tea 137), Close: 441-6 in 101 overs (Prior 64, Bresnan 47). Bell 50 off 73 balls (10 fours), Pietersen: 50 off 98 balls (6 fours), Bell: 100 off 129 balls (17 fours), Morgan: 50 off 60 balls (7 fours, 1 six), Bell: 150 off 196 balls (23 fours), Prior: 50 off 38 balls (7 fours, 1 six).
Umpires: Asad Raud (Pak) & M Erasmus (SA)
TV Umpire: B F Bowden (NZ)
Match Referee: R S Madugalle (Sri Lanka)