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Saturday, October 24, 2020

ENG vs WI 3rd Test Day 1: 22-year-old Ollie Pope answers England’s prayers

22-year-old Ollie Pope steers the hosts out of trouble with an unbeaten 91 after Windies make early inroads on Day 1.

Written by Sandip G | Updated: July 25, 2020 8:07:29 am
ENG Ollie Pope’s 91 tilted the scales in England’s favour by the end of Day 1. (Twitter/EnglandCricket)

A brilliant unbeaten 91 by Ollie Pope dug England out of danger on the first day of a compelling Test, unfolding at Old Trafford. As things stand, England were 258/4, still far from taking absolute control of the match, but it was crucial that the hosts didn’t fall behind. Pope’s knock went a long way, as the scales gradually tilted in England’s favour.

The 22-year-old showed qualities that attested his potential to become one of his country’s finest. He is self-assured without being brash. He looks compact, yet forceful at the crease. Those lyrical drives have the stamp of Ian Bell. Pope claims it’s not a conscious imitation. Rather, his favourites are Adam Gilchrist and Alec Stewart; like the latter he twiddles his bat too. He conforms to time-honoured methods: side-on set-up, light on his feet and blessed with good hands.

He batted supremely well, welding discipline to technique and temperament, which he showed to get through several tricky periods in the day. He enjoyed slices of luck; edges eluded the fielders, catches fell short of the fielders, marginal lbws were turned down… But he didn’t let the close call clutter him.

Neither did those close calls make him over-conscious nor did those inhibit him. He played with a freedom that none of his senior batting colleges could match.

Right from his debut against India two years ago at Lord’s, he had looked the part and settled right down into the hardest form of the game. He had then seen out a testy spell from Mohammed Shami before tearing into Kuldeep Yadav. Friday’s knock furnished yet another proof of his blossoming potential.

His positivity rubbed off on Jos Buttler, whose spot is under scrutiny. He began flakily, before striking two sixes off Rahkeem Cornwall in an over and composed his first half-century in 16 innings. Together, they breathed life into a sluggish first day and made West Indies look rabble in the end. And importantly, took them from 122/4 to 258/4.

Until then, ascendancy kept swinging hands several times. After Dom Sibley’s first-over departure – a bizarre series this has been for him, picking up ducks as well as a 50 and 120 — Joe Root and Rory Burns seemed to be steering England to safety with cautious batting.

But just before lunch, the England skipper ran himself out, calling for a non-existent single. On another day, you would expect West Indies fielders to err, but on Friday they were sharp and industrious. So Roston Chase’s throw from backward point, after a smooth pick-up, trimmed the bail. It was just around the time Root seemed to have acquitted well with his least favourite batting spot, No. 3, after an unusually cagey beginning. Root was out for 17 from 59 balls, leaving England teetering at 47 for two on a surface bereft of demons and bowling devoid of inspiration.

It was out of necessity that Root strode in at No. 3. With Ben Stokes, hindered by a quad injury, unlikely to bowl till the back-end of the match, England had to sacrifice Zak Crawley for the fifth bowler. Moreover, the rich vein of Stokes’s form and the promise Pope has exuded, offered enough encouragement for England to drop a batsman.

READ | Anderson-Broad-Archer: England’s deadly pace trio for 3rd Test

Stokes seemed to have configured the language of making big hundreds in Test cricket. Gone are the days when he set off an aggressive note. These days, he’s sedate and watchful, unless the situation demands a carnage as it was in the second innings in the second Test. But with England on repair mode, Stokes was restrained.

Then Roach came from nowhere like an unannounced storm. After pegging Sibley plumb in front off the last ball of his first over, he had been largely benign. He often struggled for line and the length was a fraction too short, thus wasting the new ball that was extracting sideways moment. But in the post-lunch session, he bowled with purpose and precision, and finally rewarded with the wicket of Stokes.

The execution was as thrilling as the build-up. He pushed Stokes back with consecutive bouncers—the first hit him on the head, the second was swivelled for four. Then, later in the over, he produced a glorious nip-backer from around the wicket that burst through his defence. Stokes was a bit surprised, as most of his previous deliveries had seamed away from him.

Re-energised, West Indies put on the squeeze and frustrated Burns. The England opener had so far batted inscrutably well, defending well and punishing the loose deliveries. Holder wasted no time to introduce Roston Chase, who is turning out to be his bête noire, having consumed Burns thrice. He added a fourth (off just 40 balls) when Burns attempted a late cut that flew off the outer edge but stuck into the palm of Cornwall at first slip. The latter showed superb reflexes to cling on to the offering. But thereafter, the match slipped away from West Indies’ grasp.

Brief scores: England 258/4 in 85.4 overs (O Pope 91*, R Burns 57, J Buttler 56*; K Roach 2/56, R Chase 1/24) vs West Indies

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