After Cook display, only rain to India's Edgbaston rescue

England end third day of the third test with 451-run lead over India after opener scores 294.

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BIRMINGHAM, England // Having Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid racing each other to be the first to shake his hand in appreciation of his batting should have been a reason to smile, but Alastair Cook looked inconsolable as he walked off on Friday.

The England opener had spent 12 hours and 47 minutes, and 181.1 overs, nudging and nurdling his way to the front of the queue to join the 300 Club.

Having barely played a false shot in that marathon effort, he picked a bad time to falter, as he hoicked a catch to Suresh Raina at backward point. Still, 294 is not so bad.

His monumental effort here was more than the combined batting riches of India have managed between them in their five completed innings in the series to date.

It was the biggest innings by an English batsman since Graham Gooch's 333 against the same country at Lord's in 1990, the centrepiece of the third-highest innings total by England ever, and their best since 1930.

It means England have two days to force a win that will take them above India to the top of the world rankings. If they were whistling while they worked, they could hardly be enjoying their jobs any more than they are doing now.

Duncan Fletcher, who gave Cook his debut when he was still in charge of England, and is now the India coach, said on the first evening that his new side could yet save this match because they had players who can make 200s and 300s, too.

It took England two balls to account for one of those vaunted big guns, when they dismissed Virender Sehwag off his first ball, earning him a king pair on his return from injury in the process.

India could yet find a saviour in this game. If there is the merest hint of a cloud in the sky on Saturday, there is a fair chance the umpires will rush the players from the field because of bad light.

They did so twice on Friday, and for no good reason either time. Cricket would not be played at all in this country if it was called off in the sort of light that Simon Taufel and Steve Davis deemed unfit.

The spectators in the voluble Hollies Stand, who had already been whipped into a frenzy after their beach ball was confiscated by an officious security guard, vented their disgust by singing: "We want our money back."

By the time England's bowlers had set about the Indian batsmen, the crowd's mood had changed. So had their tune, as they celebrated their side's ascent by singing: "Stand up, if you're No 1."