England’s Ollie Pope scored his 5th Test hundred on the third day of the Hyderabad Test against India (AP Photo)
Ollie Pope’s exceptional innings had shown the way that this Indian attack can be put under pressure and it is a shot in the arm for the visitors who executed the sweep shots with conviction and reaped the rewards.
Ben Duckett in his enterprising knock of 47 off 52 deliveries on Day 3 of the India vs England at the Rajiv Gandhi international stadium, Hyderabad on Sunday attempted 12 sweep shots – including the reverse and the paddle helping himself to 23 runs in the process. Five of them went to the boundary; four of them being the reverse sweep. Zak Crawley’s 33-ball stay included six attempts at the same shot, earning himself a boundary off the reverse. Ollie Pope would employ it 30 times in his 208-ball stay so far in the middle, helping himself to 39 runs out of his incredible 148*.
There was a method to the madness though. Unlike what Australia tried to do in the Delhi Test of the 2023 Border-Gavaskar Trophy – a mindless sweeping session that would eventually prove to be their downfall, What England’s batters managed to do was not only execute the shot with conviction but choose the right deliveries to do that. Yes, there were a few hits and misses, but those misses rarely thudded onto the pads in front of the wicket or hit the wicket itself. One of the reasons for that was the Indian spinners, surprisingly did not attack the stumps as much and those rare misses on the sweep either went to wicketkeeper Srikar Bharat’s hands or on a couple of occasions as byes.
It was that rare off day for all three Indian spinners with Ravindra Jadeja going a shade under 4 runs per over while Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel conceded runs at over 4. It is hard to remember when that last happened when Indian spinners were this ineffective in India when bowling.
One other factor to this England resurgence and the inability of Indian spinners to wrap England from a position of 163/5 was probably the slight ease with which the batters were able to play owing to the slow nature of the wicket. The slowness of the Uppal track meant that even if the deliveries extracted some degree of turn, it wasn’t sharp or quick turn that put England batters in trouble. It was easy to negotiate. Anything marginally short, both Pope and to an extent, Ben Foakes could go on the back and nudge the ball around for singles.
Joe Root, who got a snorter of delivery in the middle of Jasprit Bumrah’s fiery five-over spell of reverse-swing post-lunch, would later explain what made it easier for the batters on Day 3 and why the sweep shot became a high-value proposition.
“It’s hardest when some spin and some don’t. When it’s consistent spin, you can work out when to take it on, and which balls from which line you can take a risk on,” said Root during the post-day presser. Root himself had got out to the sweep in the first innings.
But Pope’s innings was not just about the sweeps. It was an innings laced with shots all around the park. The hustle and bustle of Pope at the start lend to some tentative moments at the start but he grafted it out and mi aggression with some smart shot-making. Accessing the areas towards the deep point with the reverse sweep and opening up the field was something Root particularly mentioned after the day’s play.
“It’s one of the best knocks that I have seen… to manipulate the field as he did against that attack, on that surface, to show the powers of concentration, determination, fitness and skill, all combined was immense.” This is a knock Root concedes has set the benchmark for the absolute best by an English player in India. After all, Root had the best seat in the house for Alastair Cook.
The most important thing is you don’t think you are going to miss it at all. Have that mindset of committing to the shot and nailing it for four or one or whatever. He did it exceptionally well. It took until 110 to make a small error when he got dropped.
Even there was appreciation from the Indian camp with bowling coach Paras Mambrey stating Pope played some brave shots. “Credit goes to them for playing those shots and some of the shots Pope played were very brave, and playing those shots consistently can put the opposition under pressure,” he said, adding, ” Pope accessed the square leg area and the reverse sweep as well. They took on the attack when it was needed.
From an Indian perspective, Day 3 of the 1st Test was one of those ultra-rare days in the past 12 years at home that Indian spinners were found wanting. “Sometimes it happens because someone like him (Pope) who plays these kinds of shots consistently does get the bowlers under pressure in terms of variations of the line. But we need to be patient with lines and hope to get a wicket.”
And four wickets are what India have to get on Day 4, and in quick time too. With the lead at 126 already, another 70-80 runs from England’s last four with Pope in the middle could challenge India. England have taken the fight to India with this effort being the first time since Nagpur 2012 that a visiting team has managed a score over 300 in their second innings.
While the track has been slow on the first three days, there is every possibility for the pitch to break apart and make things tricker for India come the fourth innings if they end up chasing anything over 250.