Two pieces of "magic" helped to put England within touching distance of another historic Test victory in India.

After Ravichandran Ashwin's stubborn and skilful resistance, Alastair Cook's team had to wait until today to wrap up what seemed a certain second successive win over their hosts.

They have reached the verge of a 2-1 lead, with one match to play, by stumps on day four at Eden Gardens thanks to much honest endeavour, as well as moments of inspiration.

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As Steven Finn reflected on the job done so far to reduce India to 239 for nine – despite Ashwin's unbeaten 83 – and a lead of only 32, he cited Graeme Swann's perfect off-break to bowl Virender Sehwag as one of two pieces of brilliance that set them on their way.

The other was Ian Bell's direct-hit run-out of No 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, the second of six wickets to fall for only 36 runs after Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir had begun to eat into a first-innings deficit of 207 with an opening stand of 86.

"That ball to get us going after lunch from Swanny was an excellent delivery, and that kick-started us into the session," said fast bowler Finn, who took three for 37. "A bit of magic from Bell really propelled us in that session, and as a team we backed one another up. I wouldn't say there's been too much between the two sides; our batsmen played very well against the Indian bowlers and we were fortunate a little bit of magic – well, a couple of bits of magic – in that middle session got us those wickets."

England were within two wickets of an innings victory inside four days when Ashwin was joined by Ishant Sharma for a determined stand of 38. The No 8 then added another unbroken 40 with last man Pragyan Ojha to further frustrate England.

But he was surely just delaying the inevitable, and Finn said: "At the beginning of the day, if you'd have said India would be 30 ahead and nine wickets, we'd have taken it. That last hour and 45 minutes was a little bit frustrating. But we stuck to our guns; we were patient throughout ... and that paid dividends with those quick wickets in the middle session.

"He [Ashwin] played very well. He played the reverse-swing very well and was patient, took runs when he needed to and put trust in the man at the other end. It was good Test cricket. I thought it was a great day of Test cricket."

England also endured an awkward first session in which they lost their last four wickets for just 14 runs, then could find no way past Sehwag and Gambhir.

"I thought India have bowled very well," said Finn. "To get those four quick wickets this morning was good bowling – we certainly didn't want to lose those wickets as quickly as we did."

England believe nonetheless they are starting to reap the rewards of their response to the 3-0 defeat by Pakistan in Dubai and Abu Dhabi last winter.

"We felt as a team that it's been coming, almost," said Finn. "We've worked very hard since the UAE. That was a massive eye-opener. We've been saying we've worked hard to adapt our games to these conditions over in the subcontinent, and now it's starting to pay dividends in terms of results. But let's not be presumptuous; if we win tomorrow we're only going to be 2-1 up in the series. It's important going into the fourth Test we have no complacency and keep working. We're always looking to get better."