OLLIE POPE demonstrated once more that he is one of the most exciting England batting prospects to emerge for years.
After three low scores, Pope finally made an impact on this series with a stylish and highly-skilled innings of 91 not out.
And he received strong support from Jos Buttler in an unbroken fifth-wicket stand of 136 on day one of the Third Test before another ridiculous adjournment for bad light with 4.2 overs unbowled.
Here were two men with big reasons to impress. Pope would have been boiling with frustration at contributing just 12, 12, 7 and 12 not out in the opening two Tests.
And Buttler had found himself under big pressure after a year of faltering Test performances that bear no relation to his white ball pyrotechnics. Now he repaid a portion of the selectors’ apparently never-ending faith in him.
By the close, Pope and Buttler had dragged England from the relative peril of 122-4 to 258-4 and a position of some strength. The series is locked at 1-1 and England need to win to reclaim the Wisden Trophy.
With Ben Stokes unlikely to bowl because of a thigh strain, England dropped batsman Zak Crawley to accommodate an extra quick bowler. So the liaison of Pope and Buttler was even more crucial.
Perhaps the responsibility of batting at six, rather than his normal place at seven, might have benefited Buttler.
Opener Rory Burns also made a half-century before trying to cut slow bowler Roston Chase and falling to a superb, reflex, right-handed catch at slip by Rahkeem Cornwall.
In many ways, it was the moment of the day – this 25-stone giant, with two caps plonked on his head, holding a cracking catch to remove England’s opener.
Pope’s breakthrough last winter included a superb hundred against South Africa in Port Elizabeth and he is on the cusp of adding another. His delightful strokeplay is allied to a calm temperament and a desire to keep the scoreboard ticking.
Buttler frequently struggles to know the best tempo for his Test match batting. Should he block or should he bludgeon? Here, he took his time – he did not reach double figures until his 38th ball – before gradually pressing the accelerator.
He twice launched Cornwall for six into the empty stands at wide long-on in the same over.
Jason Holder won the toss for the second time in eight days at Old Trafford and again put England into bat. And again it looked a suspect decision.
But he reaped immediate reward when Dom Sibley was out for a duck in the first over for the second time in the series, this time lbw to a nip-backer from the excellent Kemar Roach. Feast or famine for Sibley in this series – two ducks, a fifty and a century.
The reshuffled England order meant captain Joe Root climbing to No3.
He really struggled, playing and missing, surviving an lbw review and generally failing to locate the middle of the bat.
Then, having done the difficult bit by hanging on for 20 overs, Root ran himself out. He called Burns for a single to short third man but Chase’s throw dislodged a bail and Root was a foot short.
It is the fourth time Root has been run out in Test cricket since the start of 2018 – more than any other batsman in the world.
Root has scored just one century in his last 30 innings at home. In his first 30 Test innings at home, he made six hundreds.
Stokes, unable to run flat out between the wickets because of his thigh strain, was pushed back by a couple of short balls from Roach – one hit him on the helmet – and then castled by an inducking ripper.
This was top-quality bowling from Roach.
Pope was also sconed early in his innings but it didn’t appear to bother him. He was soon working the ball around elegantly and using his feet to Cornwall and Chase.
Burns departed courtesy of Cornwall’s snaffle, the fourth time he has fallen to Chase’s innocuous offerings during which he has scored just 15 runs off the bowler.
Pope and Buttler played with few alarms and plenty of flourish. If the rain stays away, England will fancy their chances of forcing a win.
The Red for Ruth day, honouring the late wife of former England captain Andrew Strauss and supporting families facing the death of a parent from cancer, raised £282,385.