Ollie Pope sweeps to epic hundred, leads England fightback in 1st Test vs India | Cricket - Hindustan Times
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Ollie Pope sweeps to epic hundred, leads England fightback in 1st Test against India

By, Hyderabad
Jan 27, 2024 09:40 PM IST

His unbeaten 148 sticking to the visitors' game plan of attacking India's spinners on Day 3 is likely to leave the hosts chasing a tricky target in the 1st Test

Displaying great powers of concentration and batting doggedly while using every trick to unsettle the bowlers, it was a valiant display by Ollie Pope and Ben Foakes with their backs to the wall on Saturday. But one ball stayed low on the third day’s pitch at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, the last delivery of the 67th over from Axar Patel. Foakes was helpless as the ankle-high ball crashed into the stumps, end his fighting 104-run partnership with Pope. Down for the count when skipper Ben Stokes was dismissed cheaply at the team total of 163, the sixth wicket pair had stretched the lead to 85.

England's Ollie Pope celebrates after scoring a century (100 runs) during the third day of the first Test cricket match between India and England at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad on January 27(AFP)
England's Ollie Pope celebrates after scoring a century (100 runs) during the third day of the first Test cricket match between India and England at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad on January 27(AFP)

It was a crucial breakthrough for the hosts, feeling the pressure with every run England added to their total. Riding on Pope’s sensational unbeaten 148, England reached 316/6 at stumps to remarkably still be in the game after India took a first innings lead of 190. England are 126 runs ahead and anything close to 175 could be a testing chase.

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Outplayed on the first two days, the visitors needed an inspirational effort to lift their spirits. Openers Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett came out positive in the second innings, but the day's headline act was by Pope.

His hundred will go down as among the best in India by an overseas batter. It is being compared to Alastair Cook's epic 176 in the second innings of the first Test of the 2012 series at Ahmedabad.

England are hoping it will have a similar impact as Cook’s innings had. They were hammered in that game, but the century boosted their confidence as the visitors won the next two Tests to win the series 2-1. With the pitch playing slower, India should get this chase done but with four more Tests to come, Pope’s brilliant display has shown the way to the rest of their batters.

Except for Day 3, India have been the better side in this contest but one aspect of the game where England have done better is Pope converting his knock into a big one. On the other hand, three India batters were dismissed in the 80s -- Yashasvi Jaiswal (80), KL Rahul (86) and Ravindra Jadeja (87). Pope's outstanding 148* came off 208 balls with 17 fours at an impressive strike rate of over 71.

SPINNERS FEEL THE HEAT

If you allow them to get on top, R Ashwin and Jadeja get unplayable in home conditions by building pressure and bowling accurately. The England gameplan has been to take chances and attack them regardless of the risk. In the first innings, England were bowled out for 246 but they stuck to their aggressive approach in the second innings. All their preparations leading up to the series, in their Abu Dhabi camp and after landing in Hyderabad, have been focussed on playing positively. The work done was there to see in Pope’s game. He used the feet to attack, then put the spinners off their length by daring to play strokes with and against the turn.

It helped him tame the Indian spinners, scoring 41 runs off 42 balls against Ashwin, 27 runs off 41 balls against Axar Patel and 63 off 94 against Ravindra Jadeja. He scored all but 17 runs off the spinners.

The 26-year-old also did well to ride the searing post-lunch spells of Jasprit Bumrah, who threatened to run through the top-order once he started to get reverse swing with the older ball. He sent opener Ben Duckett's off-stump flying and nailed Joe Root leg before, but Pope showed the technique to negotiate the 19 balls he faced off the pace ace.

DROPPED CHANCE

India though were frustrated after Axar Patel dropped Pope on 110, failing to hold on to the catch after he miscued a reverse-sweep against Jadeja. It was the only time Pope wasn’t in control of the shot, having used it to telling effect to unsettle the spin trio.

Reverse sweep is a risky option but very effective to turn a good ball into a scoring opportunity. Overall, England have scored more than 50 runs reverse-sweeping spin in this Test. It meant skipper Rohit Sharma had a challenge setting the field. The England No.3 also reached the pitch of the ball and smothered the spin, whereas in the past England batters would often get caught on the crease. It was Pope's fifth Test hundred, second in the subcontinent after his 108 against Pakistan at Rawalpindi in December, 2022.

India bowling coach paras Mhambrey acknowledged the pressure his bowlers came under as the batsmen targetted different areas. "Someone like Pope, who accessed the square leg area and the reverse sweep as well. Credit must go them, they really played well. They took on the attack when it was needed; sometimes it happens because someone like him who plays these kinds of shots consistently does get the bowlers under pressure in terms of variations of the line. We still need to be patient with lines and the right areas and hope to get a wicket, an edge or something."

Joe Root said Pope consistently made the right decisions under pressure in the big moments in a big game. "We are so chuffed for him to lay a marker down like that early in the series."

Resuming on 421/7, with Jadeja on 81 and Axar on 35, India would have fancied their chances of burying England with a lead bigger than 190. But the hosts added only 15 runs in 11 overs before being bowled out for 436. Part-timer Root came up with an impressive spell of 5-3-2-2 to finish with four wickets. The former England skipper said: "Everything we've done today is very good for us to take forward, not just for tomorrow but for the rest of the series. It is a long old tour, there will be ups and downs and momentum will swing different ways.”

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