'As for Pietersen at No. 3, this was not his day, but at least he has shown willing to step into the breach' © AFP
 

Beneath their public displays of frustration, England's cricketers were perhaps secretly quite pleased that the third ODI in Kanpur ended in yet another of those light-related farces that the ICC - like moths around a candle - seem inexplicably obliged to singe themselves upon time and time again. The nonsense of the finish provided a postscript to the result. England would almost certainly have lost had the match gone its distance, but India weren't entirely settled at 198 for 5. Those lost nine overs could still have made the difference between a thumping 3-0 scoreline, and a cliffhanging 2-1.

"It is frustrating," said Kevin Pietersen after the match. "It was getting dark at 4.30. But the umpires made their decision, and that's the way it is - so we come out on bottom again." Several minutes of animated discussion took place out in the middle, as England railed against the injustice of their situation, but in the end Pietersen accepted the ruling with a shrug and a handshake. He knew that the gloom was settling in and the umpires' hands were tied, although why that should be the case is one of the eternal mysteries of cricket.

You'd have thought that a global-scale embarrassment at last year's World Cup final might have persuaded the powers-that-be to tidy up their regulations, but no. Here instead was a lower-profile repeat of the exact same mistakes that cropped up in Barbados 18 months ago. Fog isn't exactly an unexpected phenomenon in Kanpur, yet the 45-minute delay while the morning mists evaporated ended up playing havoc with the day's timings. A total of two overs were shaved off the match - insufficient in the circumstances of the city, where night falls quickly, early and predictably, but permissible according to the playing conditions, which currently allow for play to be extended at the end of the day.

The playing conditions may allow for it, but the conditions in which the game is actually played most certainly do not. Without the use of Kanpur's floodlights, which loom mysteriously over the ground but have never yet been used for a day-night fixture, there was no quibbling with nature. And the caterers clearly rely on timings as precise as the rising and the setting of the sun, because the game was still interrupted by a 35-minute innings break.

A ten-minute turnaround might have been sufficient to give the match a natural ending, but absurdly, a reduction can only be made if at least an hour of playing time is lost. To be fair to the ICC, they are a more reactive organisation these days, because that change, however flawed, was instigated after the last farcical finish involving an England team - the ODI at Edgbaston in June, when New Zealand were denied, two runs short of victory, by Paul Collingwood's go-slow tactics. Today's scenes were poetic justice, you might argue, but that doesn't excuse them for cropping up in the first place.

All of the above will be forgotten within days - such is the disposable way of the one-day international - but the 35,000 fans who piled into Green Park deserved more for their money. Still, on this occasion, at least they weren't robbed blind, as India were the dominant force throughout the match.

"We were ahead at every stage," said their captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. "In the morning when I went out for the toss I knew that D/L method could be applied as we know light fades away very fast at this venue after 4pm. So we were prepared, I had a chit of D/L calculations, and once we knew D/L method would be applied we decided to preserve wickets as we knew we were ahead." It begs the question, if Dhoni was prepared for such a chaotic ending, why on earth weren't the match authorities prepared to prevent it in the first place?

And so, the teams head off for Bangalore for Sunday's fourth encounter with India's series lead growing with every match, but England's competitiveness gaining some sort of belated momentum. "There are definitely areas we improved on, we are getting closer," said Pietersen with a monotony that is at least borne out by the facts. Margins of 158 runs, 54 runs and now 16 runs tell the tale of a team coming to terms with the opposition, the conditions and, perhaps most importantly, themselves. If their margins are tumbling with anything like the consistency of the British economy, they might still be able to dream of a thrilling victory in the next game, a thumping win in the last, and a miraculous 4-3 turnaround overall.

Before that can happen, however, England will need to obliterate the errors that are undermining their best-laid plans. They made three positive moves in their team selection today - promoting Ravi Bopara to open was an undoubted improvement on the jittery displays that Matt Prior has shown in the role all series, while Graeme Swann's genuine ability to turn the ball gave India's batsmen a much-needed challenge in those lackadaisical middle overs. As for Pietersen at No. 3, this was not his day, but at least he has shown willing to step into the breach.

But they were guilty of naivety with the bat once again, as they squandered a rollicking (by their recent standards) opening stand of 79 in 15 overs and allowed India's spinners to whittle away for the rest of the innings. Claiming only 21 runs in the four batting Powerplay overs was a crass misuse of resources, while the failure to steal a single boundary in the final three overs cost them dear as well. Most of those faults will be lost in the Kanpur gloom, but if they reoccur for the remainder of the series, England might not have an alibi to disguise them every time.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo