England in India: Ollie Pope’s century ‘one of the great Test innings’ – Jonathan Agnew

Ollie Pope
Pope’s 196 was the highest score by an England batter in the second innings in India

Ollie Pope’s 196 against India will go down as one of the great Test innings, certainly one of the best in India.

It was remarkable.

People talk about Dean Jones’ 210 for Australia in Chennai all of those years ago in 1986 – the innings where afterwards he ended up on a drip.

That one was not loaded against Jones as it was against Pope in the first Test in Hyderabad.

Pope had to deal with a wearing pitch, his side being under immense pressure from starting the innings 190 runs behind, as well as the fact he was out so limply for one in the first innings while having a reputation for struggling against spin.

That’s before you take into account he was up against three high-quality spinners in Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel.

That trio have 829 Test wickets between them but Pope dismembered them. He left them floundering around wondering how they should bowl.

His knock will be spoken about as reverentially as Kevin Pietersen’s famous 186 against India in Mumbai in 2012.

In that game, which Alastair Cook’s side went on to win, England had the better spinners in Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar.

In this one they had an uncertain bowling attack, who did not perform competently in the first innings.

That only added to the pressure on Pope because England needed a lot of runs to have any chance of setting up what became a famous victory.

Ollie Pope shakes hands with Rohit Sharma after being dismissed
Pope hit 21 fours in his 278-ball knock before finally being bowled by Jasprit Bumrah

It is always good fun watching a batsman smash the ball around but what I like is a clever innings, one where a batsman hits boundaries while also dinking singles with real focus.

Pope did just that. He produced a textbook innings of how to play the modern way on a spinning pitch in India.

This India team could not have done what he did. They rarely play the sweep and it was Pope’s reverse sweep which he built his innings around.

He hit it everywhere from point – or what became square leg as he switched his stance – to that extraordinary scoop over his own head.

All that area had to be covered with at least one deep fielder and another closer in.

As a result the off side was opened up – you cannot have a fielder there as well – and Pope could just pick runs off.

That is a sign of a quality innings.

The other thing with Pope’s reverse sweep is he often did it to the bowler’s best ball.

When a spinner pitches the ball on a good length and still gets hit like that, where do you bowl?

If you go fuller to try to get the ball under the bat you get driven. It leaves a bowler’s mind boggled.

I’ve been interested hearing some of the comments from India from those suggesting the pitch got easier to bat on.

Yes, it slowed down but it was still a tough surface.

The bounce was horrible – some balls shooting low and others spinning and hitting the wicketkeeper’s shoulder.

It did not go to sleep.

It just what happens when a batsman takes the initiative. Suddenly you are not in command anymore.

For Pope, this innings should have a massive impact on his career.

I remember his first Test hundred against South Africa in Port Elizabeth in 2020. That was a similarly cheeky innings full of ramps and reverse ramps which showed he could innovate and play the modern way.

Pope’s talent has never been in question. He probably came into the team too early when he was given his debut as a 20-year-old in 2018.

A few years ago in New Zealand, he was my team captain in a players’ evening charity quiz. I have called him ‘Skipper’ ever since.

He’s a nice fella, always engaging and wanting to talk about cricket.

He has had some sparkling moments since – in Port Elizabeth or against New Zealand at Trent Bridge – but this could shape the kind of free spirit he can be throughout the rest of his career.

Captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum have to take some credit for his performance too.

They made him vice-captain when his place was not 100% certain in the side and it has been very good for him.

When you pick a deputy it is not just about opting for the next young batter who could be captain in the future.

You ask what added responsibility could do to someone’s game and for Pope it has clearly lifted it.

Stokes talks to him a lot in the field and he is a genuine vice-captain.

And people can continue to be sniffy about Bazball – and suggest that it is just smashing the ball around.

It is not.

It is a mindset. It is about creating a positive environment to go out and express yourself.

Yes, there are times where England will need to rein it in, as they did after going 2-0 down in the Ashes.

But that complete backing from captain and coach has allowed Pope to play an innings like this rather than being hamstrung, bound and restricted.

Whatever the end result in this series, people who question England’s approach should look at this game and learn.

Just look at what it has done to Pope.

He now not only believes he can do it but also knows he can go out with the backing of the management.

That is https://milodingines.com/ very liberating.

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