For two days, the swinging and seaming ball dominated the bat at Trent Bridge, and eleven wickets fell. On the third, the trend was reversed, emphatically. Faced with adversity - England trailed by 43 at the start and lost Andrew Strauss 10 in arrears - Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen played memorable counterattacking innings, batting with the confidence of champions during a 162-run partnership plundered at 4.47 runs per over. Eoin Morgan and Matt Prior then converted England's lead from healthy to practically unassailable with aggressive half-centuries, capitalising on wayward bowling, ragged fielding and listless captaincy. At stumps England led by 374 with four wickets in hand, having scored 417 runs in the day, and India's chances of winning or saving the match were slim. England's cricket was simply superior to India's, before and after the flashpoint that caused chaos minutes before tea.
England's lead was 187 with seven wickets in hand, when Bell, batting on 137 with the mastery of Yoda, made a rookie's assumption that ended his innings, temporarily. Eoin Morgan flicked the last ball before tea towards the square-leg boundary, where Praveen Kumar dived to try to save it. And he did, though he didn't think he had. Praveen then took his time to get up and throw the ball towards the wicketkeeper's end, by which time Bell had gone to the non-striker's end, jogging at first and then walking, either because he thought it was a boundary or that tea had been called. Abhinav Mukund collected the throw and took off the bails, after which the umpire called over and handed Ishant Sharma his sweater. India had appealed for a run-out, though, and after a long delay, while the decision was referred to the third umpire, Bell was given out.
The Indian team was greeted with boos from the Nottingham crowd as play resumed after tea. But suddenly Bell walked out to bat and there were cheers. During the tea interval England's captain and coach, Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower, had asked Dhoni if he was willing to withdraw the appeal. India had been within their rights to appeal for the run-out, and Bell was out according to the laws, but Dhoni agreed to let Bell resume his innings.
Bell added only 22 runs after the drama before he edged Yuvraj Singh to slip. During that time, though, Morgan took charge, finding the boundary frequently during a 104-run partnership. India's flagging intensity in the field plunged further. While most were still debating the run-out that wasn't, Morgan raced past fifty, off 62 balls, with a straight six off Harbhajan Singh.
The second new-ball gave India false hope as Morgan and the injured Jonathan Trott fell in successive overs from Praveen. Prior and Tim Bresnan, however, added an unbeaten 102 runs for the seventh wicket at 5.56 runs an over. Their hitting boundaries at will turned the contest into a bout between a boxer in his prime and an opponent unable to defend himself. England had scored 187 runs in the final session. Whether the Bell incident affected India's psyche after tea or not, there was a drastic decline in their performance. In the 90 overs England batted today, they hit 52 fours and two sixes.
The platform for England's dominance, however, had been laid well before tea. A combination of sunshine and the use of the heavy roller meant that batting conditions were as good as they had ever been over the previous two days. And Bell, batting at No. 3 because of the shoulder injury to Trott, thrived in them. His shot selection and placement were precise, his timing faultless.
Bell had a strike-rate of over 70 against every specialist Indian bowler, an indication that no one troubled him. He cut when there was width, drove straight when the length was fuller and flicked and glanced when the line was too straight. And there were plenty of opportunities to do so. The scoring was all around the wicket and India were powerless to prevent the glut of boundaries. By lunch, he had scored 84 out of England's 130, and built a lead of 63 in Pietersen's company. Unlike Bell, though, Pietersen had not been fluent before lunch.
On the previous two days, there was a wicket in the first over after lunch. Today, there was a four from Bell. And then Pietersen found his fluency, driving Ishant on the up to the straight boundary, and switched into formidable mode. He attacked Ishant again, moving inside the line to glance, pulling with power and driving fiercely to long-on in the same over.
The ensuing passage of play was a blur of boundaries: Bell guiding wide balls to third man and Pietersen glancing towards fine leg. Bell got to his century off 129 balls, England reached 200 in 52.1 overs. India had some respite when, against the run of play, Sreesanth found Pietersen's edge, after which he bowed to the crowd, who had been giving him a hard time. Morgan, however, didn't fall cheaply this time and began a partnership with Bell. And then the drama began.