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Ollie Pope’s ‘phenomenal’ century ‘masterclass’ hands England key lifeline in first Test against India

Ollie Pope finished the day unbeaten on 148 as England fought back against India at Hyderabad

Sonia Twigg
Saturday 27 January 2024 13:44 GMT
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Centurion Ollie Pope took charge in the first Test against India
Centurion Ollie Pope took charge in the first Test against India (Getty Images)

Sometimes in cricket, it falls to one player to take charge of the game, and on day three of the first Test match at Hyderabad, that was England’s Ollie Pope.

It’s the often-ignored aspect of Bazball – absorbing pressure - that the 26-year-old epitomised with perfection, before going on the attack against the tired Indian spinners. Having started the day behind the game after more than 100 overs in the field and with India 421-7 in their first innings, the visitors finished on 316 for six with a lead of 126.

The transformation was largely down to Pope. After scoring just one in the first innings and looking uncomfortable at times, he withstood the pressure while wickets tumbled around him, before rebuilding a partnership alongside Ben Foakes, and then going on the attack with reverse sweeps and paddle scoops, even against the spinners.

It is worth remembering that just a few months previously, Pope was propped up on a hospital bed having undergone shoulder surgery following a dislocation during the second Ashes Test match at Lord’s, and he has not played a first-class match since then before the tour started. After months of rehab and recovery, the batter has reaped his reward.

Even Joe Root, who has previously had success in India, was impressed and said: “The way that Pope has played, in particular, has been an absolute masterclass in how to score runs in this part of the world.

Ollie Pope played all around the ground on his way to an unbeaten 148 (Getty Images)

“When you’re not used to playing here time and time again and you only get the odd tour here and there, to be able to consistently make the right decision, under pressure, in big moments in big games, and off the back of everything that he’s been through, coming back from a serious injury and being out for a long time... as vice-captain to stand up and play an innings like that is truly phenomenal.”

The innings itself will live long in the memory, and scoring a century in India is a rare achievement, but crucially it has handed England a lifeline, and a way back into the game, although the hosts will back themselves given the match situation.

While on the second day, England chased the game, on the third day they dictated it. The final three Indian wickets fell in quick succession, including Root taking two in two balls, and then the established opening partnership of Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett provided a platform.

England were 55 without loss when Crawley was caught at slip, and went into the lunch interval 89 for one, and for the first time in the match, the tourists were ahead of the game.

Ollie Pope acknowledged the crowd after England dominated day three (Reuters)

However, after lunch, the ball started reverse-swinging and Jasprit Bumrah struck. First taking the wicket of Ben Duckett (47) and then trapping Joe Root lbw for just two runs.

Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes were unable to dig in and form a partnership with Pope, who had to wait until the introduction of Ben Foakes, before the rebuild started.

Foakes played a patient innings, taking his time to get settled in, but then sweeping well for his 34, before a delivery from Axar Patel just kept low and crashed into the stumps.

Pope’s unbeaten 148 came from 208 deliveries, and he was the main run-scorer during the 112-stand alongside Foakes, but it was the way he manipulated the field that caught the attention.

The reverse sweeps were effective, and he was handed a reprieve when Axar spilled the ball at third man when he was on 110. But it was the sweeps in front of square and the shots behind the wicketkeeper that left Rohit Sharma scratching his head for answers in search of wickets.

While England have answered questions with the bat, with the ball in hand they have not been as convincing and will need not only more runs on the board, but a marked improvement from the bowlers to have a chance of securing a win in the first Test.

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