Joe Root moved to the brink of a century as England tightened their grip on the final Test against India and moved one step closer to winning the series.
Root’s superb unbeaten 92 helped the hosts recover from 229-5 to reach 385-7 on day two at The Oval, a lead of 237 over the embattled tourists.
Four quick wickets in the afternoon session, including England captain Alastair Cook for 79 and Gary Ballance for 64, gave India a glimmer of hope.
But the prolific Root, who scored 54 off the last 39 balls of his innings, along with Jos Buttler (45) and Chris Jordan (19 not out), punished a tiring and increasingly ragged side in the evening session to guide the hosts to a position of total supremacy.
England will expect to wrap up a third successive victory over the next two days to complete a 3-1 series triumph.
“We’ve put ourselves in a great position, but there’s still a long way to go,” Ballance told BBC Sport. “The pitch is getting better, so we have to have a good morning and then bowl well.
“It was disappointing to lose those wickets in the afternoon, but, earlier in the summer, we might have had a whole team collapse. Joe Root and Jos Buttler fought back well and ended up putting the pressure back on India.
“With three wickets left, a 300 lead is realistic. If we get that, we’d be very happy.”
On another dominant day for the hosts, there was disappointment for Sam Robson as he failed to convert his promising start on Friday evening into an innings of substance when he was bowled by Varun Aaron for 37.
Listen to Geoffrey review the day’s play on the TMS podcast
“I don’t think there’s much chance of it going past tomorrow. It depends what resistance is left in the India batsmen. England should bat on for a while – Joe Root can get a hundred. A lead of 250 would be ample. I hope India do show some fight, for the crowd as much as anything. I’m not convinced about it.”
The Middlesex opener has scored only 165 runs in seven innings in the series at an average of 23 and may struggle to retain his place when England set off for the West Indies for their next Test series in April.
While Ballance goes from strength to strength at number three, question marks also remain over the batting technique of Moeen Ali, who chopped Ravichandran Ashwin on to his stumps for 14.
Since his magnificent final-day hundred almost saved England the second Test against Sri Lanka, Moeen’s highest score in six innings is 39.
Cook may also look back on the day with mixed feelings as another chance to end his 31-innings wait for a hundred went begging.
He played fluently before lunch as he and Ballance drew England level with India’s first-innings 148 for the loss of only one wicket in dry, sunny conditions.
But the interval had a dramatic effect on Cook’s rhythm. After twice being dropped at slip – by Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane – his luck ran out when a firm-footed prod at Aaron found the edge and was caught low by Vijay.
Cook’s dismissal sparked a mini-collapse in which England lost four wickets for 38 runs.
Ballance had looked imperious alongside his skipper, piercing the gaps on both sides of the wicket and reaching 50 for the sixth time in seven Tests with a ramp shot over the slips.
Joe Root is only the third England batsman to score a half-century in every Test of a five-match series, after Wally Hammond against South Africa in 1938-39 and Peter May against South Africa in 1955. John Edrich achieved the feat in a six-match series against Australia in 1970-71.
However, he popped Ashwin into the grateful hands of silly point, two balls later Ian Bell edged Ishant through to wicketkeeper Dhoni, and Moeen withdrew his bat too late and played on to Ashwin.
Crisis was averted by Root and Buttler in a partnership of 80 for the sixth wicket.
Both were judicious at first but upped the ante after tea. Buttler struck nine fours before he fell into a trap set by captain Dhoni and clipped Ishant to short midwicket.
The dismissal of Chris Woakes for a duck merely sounded the starting gun for a late acceleration as Root and Jordan added 67 off 62 balls in a raucous finale.
Root showed particular disdain for all-rounder Stuart Binny. His timing impeccable, the Yorkshire batsman twice cut through third man for four and when Binny corrected to a fuller length Root drove him down the ground.
Another day to forget for India was summed up when Jordan edged between second slip and gully for his second boundary to leave Dhoni shaking his head in dismay