Ian Bell turned on the style to give England the impetus to try to turn promise into a shot at victory over India at the Ageas Bowl.

Bell (133no) 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 Gary Ballance (156) powered the hosts to 452 for five by teatime.

England's hopes of a series-levelling victory in this third Investec Test were therefore perhaps beginning to take shape, although bowling India out twice here will surely be no easy task over the final three days.

Bell 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 duly 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 with only 29 runs coming in the first hour, 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 Singh 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.

Joe Root could not get started either side of lunch before following some width and edging Kumar behind.

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 good effect by England's debutant Jos Buttler.

The latter 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.