England v India, 3rd Test, The Oval, 3rd day August 11, 2007

England on the brink of a follow-on

England 326 for 9 (Bell 63, Collingwood 62, Cook 61) trail India 664 (Kumble 110*, Dhoni 92, Karthik 91, Tendulkar 82, Anderson 4-182) by 338 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
How they were out

Rush of blood: Kevin Pietersen, who was beginning to pose a serious problem for the Indians, self-destructed shortly before tea to a teaser from Sachin Tendulkar © Getty Images

If the second day was one for Kodak moments and a statistician's delight the third was attritional, one where India probed relentlessly. Anil Kumble wheeled away in tandem with the seamers and the returns came, not in torrents, but regularly enough to leave England at 326 for 9. England's batsmen did their best to keep the bowlers at bay, but all they managed to do was give Rahul Dravid more time to decide whether he wants to enforce the follow-on or not. As it stands India are ahead by 338 and England need 139 more runs to avoid the follow-on.

When the day began, there were still a few die-hard optimists working out the ways in which England could win this game: one way would have been Kevin Pietersen and Michael Vaughan, England's premier batsmen, playing out the whole day at near-Twenty20 pace and living on to fight again on the fourth day. What in fact transpired was very different.

As it happened, impending breaks did for both. Vaughan fell with the lunch buffet just being laid out in the dressing-rooms, fooled by a googly from Kumble that had been held back just a touch and popped right back to the bowler off the inside half of the bat. Vaughan had batted without any signs of flash or flamboyance, much like he had in his immaculate century at Trent Bridge that held India up for the longest time. Here, though, he made only 11, while his earlier effort had yielded 124.

Vaughan may have been deceived by Kumble, but Pietersen had little excuse, given the timing and manner of his dismissal. Just as it seemed that he, with power and plucky hitting, and Paul Collingwood, with dour deflections, had won the second session and forced India back, Pietersen threw his wicket away. In the penultimate over before tea, off Sachin Tendulkar's first delivery of the match - a big spinning legbreak that was not full enough for the drive - Pietersen had a brain-freeze. He plonked his left foot down the pitch and unleashed a booming square-drive, only to see the ball fly off the edge straight to Dravid at slip. Pietersen had made 41, well short of what was expected of him.

But then, it was that kind of day, one where the pendulum swung this way and that, and just when you believed it had settled in one team's favour, things changed.

To start with, Cook glanced Sreesanth straight to Dinesh Karthik at leg-slip - placed there by Dravid precisely to anticipate this - but continuing the tradition of keepers shelling sitters, albeit without gloves this time, Karthik spilled the chance. It would only cost India 48 runs, though, as Cook succumbed to Kumble on 61. Cook planted one foot down the pitch and looked to flick a Kumble legbreak that was slipping down leg and only managed a leading edge to mid-off.

But in the period between Cook being dropped and dismissed, James Anderson extended his defiance as nightwatchman to include a couple of cultured drives through the off side and it appeared as though England would prove that this pitch was still perfectly good for batting by matching India with a big score. But RP Singh ended Anderson's 48-ball stay with a ball that pitched on the stumps and straightened enough to win the lbw appeal.

England desperately needed Michael Vaughan to be in for the long haul but Anil Kumble snared him on the cusp of lunch © Getty Images

The most positive innings of the day, though, came from Ian Bell. From the time he came to the crease, with the score on 202 for 5, Bell used his feet positively, especially against the spin of Kumble and Tendulkar. At first he was not completely in control of each stroke, and there was just the worry that he was being overly aggressive, coming to this game on the back of a mediocre run of 20, 9, 31 and 0 in the series. But he knew what he was doing, and though he didn't always manage to pick Kumble out of the hand, Bell hit the ball cleanly and into the gaps, striking nine boundaries as he brought up his fifty in 77 balls. And just when it looked like Bell would bat England through to close, he jabbed at Zaheer Khan and edged to the keeper, going for 61 with less than 10 overs to go in the day, and just over 300 runs on the board.

If Bell's knock was the most positive, Collingwood's was the one most impacted by umpiring error. On nought, off the very second ball he played, Collingwood was palpably lbw, failing to read a Kumble delivery and getting pad in the way of the ball hitting the halfway up middle stump. Ian Howell, the umpire, for reasons known only to him, decided that was not out. Collingwood brushed aside the close call, and then proceeded to do the same with the bowling dabbing, tucking and nurdling the ball around for ones and twos, occasionally striking out with a clever boundary. When Collingwood had settled down, reached 62, and put that early escape out of his mind, Howell seemed to recall it. A Sreesanth delivery slipping down leg rapped Collingwood on the pad and up went the finger. There was some suggestion that the ball may have clipped leg stump, but to the naked eye, it appeared as though it could have missed another set of stumps.

In the fading light Zaheer added the wicket of Ryan Sidebottom to his tally, and Matt Prior's misery of a Test match continued. Before he could get off the mark Prior edged Sreesanth to Tendulkar at slip, and Tendulkar refused to return Prior's earlier favour, and safely held the catch. Chris Tremlett and Monty Panesar clung on for dear life, and saw England through to the close.

Anand Vasu is associate editor of Cricinfo