Ian Bell and Test debutant Jos Buttler turned on the style to put England in command against India at the Ageas Bowl.
Bell (167) took his England century count on this ground to four – two in just two Test innings, to go with two in one-day internationals – as he and Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance (156) kept the hosts in a dominant position.
Then Buttler (85) rode his luck either side of tea, taking 20 of 21 runs off one over by Pankaj Singh – including two successive leg-side sixes – and England piled up 569-7 declared on day two of this third Investec Test.
Hopes of a series-levelling win were therefore perhaps beginning to take shape, all the more so after James Anderson switched the angle round the wicket and had Shikhar Dhawan edging to slip in India’s nervy 25-1at stumps.
Bell had completed his 21st Test century with a straight six off Ravindra Jadeja, a shot which also took him to 7,000 runs in the pinnacle format.
Like his captain Alastair Cook, who returned to form on day one, Bell began this match in need of a score having gone an unaccustomed 19 attempts without a Test hundred.
He and Ballance provided the momentum England needed, to buy wicket-taking time later, with a stand of 142 as 111 runs came in 29 overs before lunch.
Afternoon progress was less uniform, only 29 coming in the first hour after lunch during which Mahendra Singh Dhoni permitted no bowler more than a one-over spell.
He must have wished he had stuck to that unusual tactic when Jadeja became the first to be allowed a second consecutive over, only to concede 21 runs in it – including the second of Bell’s two sixes in his 179-ball hundred, as well as two off-side fours and another maximum over the slow left-armer’s head.
Bell had been fortunate to survive on nought the previous evening when Pankaj might easily have had him lbw with a brilliant delivery.
On a sunny morning, he soon edged the tall debutant seamer just past third slip for four and then showed no pity as he leg-glanced him for a second boundary in successive balls.
Ballance upped the ante too with three fours in four balls off Bhuvneshwar Kumar – a cut, leg-glance and on-drive – to surge to a new career-best.
Dhoni tried to slow England’s progress with a seven-two leg-side field for Jadeja to Ballance, cutting off many of the left-hander’s run-scoring options with the spin – while Pankaj bowled short with men in position for hook, pull or deflection.
Instead, it was part-time off-spinner Rohit Sharma who ended Ballance’s near six-and-a-half-hour innings, in circumstances which suggested there may be help eventually for England’s own all-rounder Moeen Ali.
Ballance appeared unlucky, with no obvious bat-on-ball impact as he went caught-behind to one that turned and bounced sharply, and had him trudging off in disappointment after the 288th delivery he faced.
His county colleague Joe Root could not get started, before following some width and edging Kumar behind, and the same bowler also had Moeen somehow miscuing a hook to second slip.
But Bell, who already had his latest century in the bag on this happy hunting ground, was joined to significant effect by Buttler in a quickfire stand of 106 for the sixth wicket.
The debutant might have gone for a duck to Kumar but was reprieved when the third umpire was unable to discern, from video replay, that his edge had carried to Ajinkya Rahane at second slip.
Buttler was also dropped at slip by Dhawan on 23 and, finally, should have been stumped by Dhoni off Jadeja on 59.
But in between he piled into the Indian bowlers with an early demonstration that, when the time is right, he is well capable of transferring his remarkable limited-overs shot-making to Test cricket.
Pankaj suffered most, having taken the catch at mid-on which ended Bell’s fun after a mis-hit off Kumar (3-101), as Chris Woakes contributed only an unbeaten seven to a partnership of 43 in five overs.
The innings closed when England’s new wicketkeeper-batsman was bowled, aiming another big hit at Jadeja, but by then his nine fours and three sixes had helped to give his bowling team-mates a proper window of opportunity to take 20 Indian wickets.
England are prepared to let Moeen continue wearing wristbands declaring his support for the population of Gaza, during the remainder of the third Test.
The extra clothing Moeen wore while batting against India at the Ageas Bowl featured the slogans ‘Save Gaza’ and ‘Free Palestine’.
It is yet to become clear whether the International Cricket Council will take a dim view of practising British Muslim Moeen’s show of solidarity, or indeed issue any sanction under their code of conduct.
An England and Wales Cricket Board spokesman said: “We don’t believe he committed any offence.”