James Lawton: England have been great and honest in bid to reach summit

Kevin Pietersen looked immense once more, hitting a towering six and accelerating through the gears as a Ferrari might

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Pore back through all the records, confront the deeds of great men like Hobbs and Sutcliffe, Compton and Botham, and you are still not likely to find more than a handful of occasions. When, that is, English cricket took the kind of command they enjoyed here in the mellow sunshine of last evening.

Kevin Pietersen looked immense once more, hitting a towering six and accelerating as a Ferrari might come through the lower gears.

Alastair Cook had found again the appetite for run-gorging so vital to the crushing of Australia last winter Down Under.

Local hero Ian Bell, the centre of so much controversy in the last Test at Trent Bridge after allowing a most beautiful knock to lapse into something close to farce, went for a mere 34 as he attempted to make a memorial of an innings in tribute to his long-time batting mentor, Neal Abberley, who died at the start of this week.

Bell could only manage a cameo tribute but it shone jewel-like before he was bowled by Praveen Kumar, the one Indian cricketer who didn't seem overwhelmed by the pressure yesterday and would later claim the wicket of Pietersen when he reached 63 and England were 374 for 3.

Soon enough England had moved past 400 and exerted the kind of authority and fierce competitive edge which had already brought them crushing victories at Lord's and Trent Bridge in the first two Tests.

That was a milestone which put into another perspective the advantage England have established against the team who came here ranked No 1 in the world – a distinction which seems certain to crumble utterly here and at The Oval next week.

Despite enjoying the services of three of the greatest batsmen of all time, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, India have now failed to pass 300 in each of their five innings. They have failed, utterly, to be competitive after coming off the treadmill of their one-day World Cup triumph and the big money Twenty20 Indian Premier League.

But then if you happen to think this must be merely disappointing for all those admirers across the world who responded to the artistry of their batting and the guile of their bowling as they overtook an Australian team weakened so desperately by the departure of men like Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, you need to spend a little time on the terracing of this spectacularly refurbished cricket arena.

Here, you see that the reaction runs a little deeper than passing disgruntlement. There is a feeling, we should be honest, of betrayal.

Betrayal of what, though? Standards of commitment that were set on their way to the top of the world; also, surely, there must be something of an emptiness for the England team who, under captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower, have superbly remade themselves after the confusion which brought Pietersen's loss of the captaincy two and a half years ago.

Since then England have submitted to some rigorous tests – and passed almost all of them. They beat the last of the best of a great Australian team in two Ashes series, and if they lost their nerve at the Wanderers ground in Johannesburg 19 months ago, it was only after fighting an excellent South African team to a standstill.

Next summer, in the shadow of the London Olympics, the South Africans come here for a shortened, three-match series which should give us a much better guide to the realities of cricket power.

Unfortunately, what we are enduring here – and surely face another repetition of at The Oval – is no such investigation. It is a series of formal statements about how the money-inspired preoccupation with Twenty20 cricket has seduced an Indian team which was so brilliant so recently.

The Indian captain MS Dhoni was a man of decision and impressive performance in the winning World Cup campaign back home earlier this year. Here, he has been buffeted into a crisis that has often suggested something close to a competitive nervous breakdown.

He battled with defiance and elan at the batting crease on the first day here but couldn't prevent his team slipping out of serious contention yesterday. We were back in the worst of the Indian abdication from their leadership of Test cricket, one which will become official if, as now seems so certain, they fail to stop England taking a 3-0 series lead.

Some of the Indian cricket was so poor, so lacking in spirit or technical accomplishment, the prevailing reaction, it seemed, was to look away. This is never a challenge for some detachments of the Barmy Army of course, particularly the most enthusiastic of the cross-dressers who always have a new rival line to admire or despise.

For those who came more intent on watching cricket, and perhaps being moved by evidence that they were observing not one team of great talent and spirit but two, the problem was plainly one which permitted no easy diversion.

There were cries, even gasps of disappointment at some examples of the atrophied state of Indian cricket, of fielding that might have earned a rebuke on a well ordered village green.

There also had to be a degree of sympathy for the team which has dominated the series so profoundly. As Cook drew closer to a double hundred, as in the company of Eoin Morgan he took his team to a lead of more than 200 runs with seven wickets still standing, you could only regret that when they reached the mountain top finally they would have a dilemma. They wouldn't be sure whether it was more appropriate to plant a flag of St George or recognise a white one announcing surrender.

One point not in dispute was the splendid consistency of the English effort. They have moved from one challenge to another with quite relentless application. They have learnt from their mistakes and grown formidably strong at some severely broken places.

They have done the great and honest thing. They have geared themselves to the challenge of fighting to be the best in the world. It is not their fault that the fight, each successive round of it, grows ever more fraudulent.

How the third Test's second day unfolded

11.33: Start, 84 for 0

Early-morning rain means that England have to wait before they can begin their climb towards the Indian total. They start the day just 140 runs behind.

11.57: Stand, 100 for 0

Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook bring up their first century opening partnership of the series as the skipper prods into the leg-side for a quick single.

12.55: Milestone, 150 for 0

Cook brings up his half-century by flicking a Sreesanth delivery off his legs to the midwicket boundary. That's the Essex opener's seventh boundary in 130 deliveries.

1.03: Lunch, 157 for 0

England hit 73 runs off 22 overs in a rain-delayed session. India offer little resistance as the England openers continue to accumulate runs at an impressive rate.

2.13: Wicket, 183 for 1

Strauss goes for 87, bowled by Amit Mishra round the legs, trying to sweep the leg-spinner. Replays suggest that the delivery may have been a no-ball.

2.26: Landmark, 203 for 1

Ian Bell brings up England's 200 with his third four of an Ishant Sharma over, cutting the ball between second slip and gully to the third-man boundary.

2.49: Top shot, 228 for 1

Bell's sixth four in just 24 deliveries puts England into the lead, as he whips Mishra through the legside from off the back foot. England are well on top.

3.20: Century, 252 for 1

Cook pushes a delivery from Sreesanth into the leg-side for a single. His century comes off 213 balls and includes 14 fours. It is his 19th in Test cricket.

3.21: Wicket, 252 for 2

Bell is bowled by Kumar for a quick-fire 34. Perhaps distracted by Cook's celebrations the previous delivery, Bell sees a leg-cutter remove his off-stump.

4.03: 50 stand, 305 for 2

Kevin Pietersen hits the first delivery with the new ball for four through the off-side. It brings up the 50 partnership off just 60 deliveries.

4.12: Tea, 319 for 2

England are in complete control as the players go for tea. In an exhausting session, the Indian bowlers took two wickets for a costly 162 runs.

4.59: 50, 346 for 2

Pietersen cuts Sharma to the third-man boundary, to bring up his half-century off 53 balls. He reaches the 100 stand with another four in the same over.

5.23: 150, 368 for 2

A slog to long-on off Sreesanth takes Alastair Cook to 150. He has been at the crease for 379 minutes, hitting 23 fours and facing 268 deliveries.

5.25: Wicket, 374 for 3

Pietersen goes for 63, lbw to Kumar. He played inside the line to an out-swinger and the ball raps his pads. Pietersen wasn't happy but it would have hit off stump.

5.43: 400, 400 for 3

Morgan nudges the ball into the leg-side to pick up a single and take England to 400. Runs to be had, as fielders are on the boundary ropes. England's lead is now 176.

6.17: Drop, 415 for 3

Sreesanth drops a simple catch when Morgan hits a ball from Sharma to him at point. Amid strong competition, fielding may yet be India's weakest discipline.

6.51: Drop, 455 for 3

Rahul Dravid puts down another regulation chance, dropping a dolly at second slip from Morgan's misjudged cut off Raina. He looks devastated.

6.52: Stumps, 456 for 3

India look very low as they trudge off at the end of Raina's over. England have scored 372 runs for the loss of just three wickets today, and are 232 runs ahead.