Some messages from the English camp may seem crazy at times, but internally they clearly have merit. They approached this third day in Hyderabad as if the memories of the previous two had been erased like a politician’s WhatsApp messages, a sublime century from Ollie Pope pushing India back when all hope seemed lost.
The prospect of this resulting in anything other than a 1-0 lead for the hosts still seemed an outside bet at the close, with England reaching 316 for six and 126 runs ahead. But the fact that nothing was resolved was to their credit, as was the architect being one of the players who seemed so lost during that grim pandemic tour of India three years ago.
Over the course of two sessions, Pope repelled everything India threw at him. And given that this included a veritable burst of reverse swing from Jasprit Bumrah after lunch, one which brought down Ben Duckett’s stump and wiped out Joe Root lbw, it took some effort. Come, he was unbeaten on 148, his fifth Test century sealed an hour earlier with a wing-heel sprint for three and a beaming smile.
There was a sketchy under-edge between the wicketkeeper and the slippery second ball and a truly gifted life on 110 when Axar Patel dropped a cart back. But otherwise it was the Prince of the Oval who stood in the middle – rather than the former poor man in India – as Pope steered his side first towards parity and then beyond. Sweeping was his method and that of England on the whole, with Duckett’s previous 47 setting the tone for the innings.
Support was naturally key, with Ben Foakes arriving at a perilous 163 for five and helping to add 102 runs for the sixth wicket thanks to a calm header and those low hands. Not that the latter can offer complete protection, Foakes bowled terribly for 34 by a shot from Patel; one of the few gremlins thrown onto a field that plays well.
Instead, it was youngster Rehan Ahmed who helped Pope till the end, with the duo putting on 41 more runs for a session of 144 runs in total which, ultimately, had prompted a few sideways glances from Rohit Sharma and his men. After vaporizing Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes in quick succession, it wasn’t in the script.