Ollie Pope gets to a century. Mildly takes his helmet out - no wild celebration, but a smile that could even calm the fire. Pope, in the second innings of the Hyderabad Test between India and England, was as wholesome as it could get.
It couldn’t have been a better story for England either, for their vice-captain dug in deep in the second after skipper Ben Stokes led the way for England with a stoic 70 in the first innings. But scratch the surface - you see a batter just discovering the mojo of what he’s capable of after a long bumpy road.
To get matters just alright, before this Test, Pope averaged just 18.3 against India and Australia combined in 25 innings. Only one half-century would tell you there was no love to be taken for granted in any situation. In fact, apart from Ireland and South Africa, Pope has a middling record against every team he has played against, which made the Saturday knock such a special one.
When India registered a lead of 190 runs, the onus was squarely on the English top-order to bazball their way into insanity. Jasprit Bumrah was on fire, as was Ravichandran Ashwin. Ravindra Jadeja was turning the ball like a string hopper, whereas Axar Patel - India’s very own English tormentor - was creating a loop of his own with straighter ones that refused to hit above the strap of the pad. Surviving those conditions required an extreme level of skill and an attitudinal shift.
Pope, for a change, showed both verticals in Hyderabad, his first proper show of intent against the very side he made his Test debut back in 2018. That was the series Rishabh Pant made his Test debut but all focus was on how Pope, likened to Sachin Tendulkar by UK media, would go on to become the prodigious superstar.
He didn’t, though. While Pant would go on to script some of the greatest stories of Indian cricket, Pope faded away rather soon. The hype - as the vice-captain promotion would tell you - however, never left - but truth be told, he hadn’t done anything of substance to be proud of that promotion.
It all changed in Hyderabad. Pope, playing his first red-ball game in seven months after that shoulder injury in the Ashes 2023, played one hell of a knock to repay the faith bestowed on him. It mattered even more because of the context of the game, as his knock propelled England from a possible innings defeat to a respectable total.
Before this Test, Pope averaged 47.75 in the first innings, but that drastically reduced to 16.03 in the second. He had crossed the 30-run mark only twice in those innings, leaving a somber taste of his diametric career. But none of the past baggage had a bearing on how he took on the Indian attack, especially the duo of Ashwin and Jadeja.
His knock might not be enough eventually - for India, on this less-than-usual track, may canter to a victory, but for Pope, this would be a personal victory of sorts. A culmination of the trust and enormous goodwill that the team management and the fans regularly pile on him. It can only take him forward.
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