England’s latest batting starlet looked every inch the player they hope he can be, but he still has plenty to learn from the ultimate master at work as Joe Root collected the 27th, and fastest, Test hundred of his incredible career from 116 balls.
From the moment he sprinted to the middle at the dismissal of Alex Lees to the close of play when he walked off with 163 not out to his name, Root was in a different class. He scored his runs where he chose, almost every shot pinging right off the middle of his bat, and every boundary greeted with the usual boo-like chant of ROOOOOOOT!
By the time he had reached 150 he was peeling off the sort of shots that Kevin Pietersen and Sir Viv Richards had built their careers on, whipping the ball from outside off stump through the leg side.
He was utterly dominant, with just the one chance coming when he had made 27 and Tim Southee failed to hold on to a difficult catch at 2nd slip. It didn’t stick and together with Pope the pair added 187 as England reached 473-5 just 80 runs behind New Zealand’s first innings.
Pope was eventually removed for 145 from a top edged hook down to fine leg, but he can be well satisfied with the job he had done for his team in a position he had filled for the first time at Lord’s. It was the 24-year-old himself who had enquired about moving up to three in the order once Ben Stokes had revealed Root would be dropping down to four, and he has delivered in an emphatic way.
And the team clearly took just as much delight in him getting to the landmark as he did with Root nearly hugging him off his feet. It was Pope’s second Test hundred and his first in England, and it just so happens that it was also his first hundred north of the River Thames.
The Surrey batter regularly raises his bat at the Kia Oval – nine times so far – but his four other centuries before this had come at Port Elizabeth, Dubai, The Ageas Bowl and Guildford. He will now surely score many more in an England shirt with former skipper Michael Vaughan predicting a century of caps to come his way.
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“You get the sense this innings could be the one that triggers Ollie Pope into a very consistent run scorer for England,” Vaughan said on social media. “Has all the talent to be a player who will play 100 Tests.”
Lees will be kicking himself that he didn’t make the same argument for his own career. Having been compared to Aussie powerhouse opener Matthew Hayden when he was younger he showed glimpses of why in making 67.
But a change of angle did for him when Matt Henry came over the wicket and tempted him into a drive that he could only edge straight to slip. Stokes arrived after tea and proceeded to walk the positive walk he has been preaching, clubbing 46 in double quick time.
His demise from a slog sweep was perhaps inevitable, but he put the turbo boosters on before he fell which is why a mammoth 383 runs were scored in the day.