Six of the Best: Ollie Pope, 135* vs South Africa
As part of The Official Googly Handbook: Volume I, we analyse Ollie Pope's memorable maiden Test century in Port Elizabeth.
Ollie Pope’s magnificent knock in Port Elizabeth saw him become the youngest Englishman to score a Test century since Alastair Cook in 2006. For most, it was confirmation that he will indeed be England’s next truly great batsman. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, though, for Pope has long been touted as the future of English cricket. It was just a case of where and when he would enjoy his crowning moment.
During the final session on Day 1 of the third Test in Port Elizabeth, England found themselves in a familiar situation. At 148/4, with Joe Root having just been bowled by a fired-up Kagiso Rabada on a slow wicket, things were in danger of going horribly wrong through the middle and lower order again. Pope strolled to the crease with a job to do, and joined the man of the hour; the hero of the World Cup Final, Headingley and now Cape Town, Ben Stokes.
The pair batted sensibly until the close, producing an unbeaten 76-run partnership to repair England’s position and lay a platform for the carnage that would ensue the following morning. While Stokes set about dismantling South Africa’s attack on his way to a brutal century, Pope remained calm and composed. Loose balls were capitalised upon, and lovely flowing drives were scattered amongst a plethora of well-judged leaves and gritty defensive efforts. For the 79 runs and 151 balls up until Stokes was dismissed, Pope’s approach was measured.
However, when Sam Curran arrived at the crease, Pope flicked a switch. Though the results weren’t immediate, the intent was there – ODI mode had been activated. After the maiden Test century that his hard work so deserved was brought up from 190 balls with a boundary off Anrich Nortje, the fun started.
Pope no longer defended, dead-batted or drove. Traditional, conservative shots were a thing of the past. Instead, he pulled, cut, flicked, scooped, reverse scooped and uppercutted his way to a wonderful 135*. You name it, he probably did it. The shots off Nortje and Rabada over the top of Quinton de Kock were ridiculous filth, their tone borderline mocking of South African’s best pace bowlers. If Pope’s innings was a feature length film, it would have to be R-rated.
When England finally declared, Pope was treated to a standing ovation, and rightfully so. That afternoon at St George’s Park during which we were fortunate enough to witness a defining moment in the career of a generational talent, was one to savour.
Now, here’s a fun fact for you. I, Daniel Senior, have a higher top-score at St George’s Park to my name than Ollie Pope. It’s higher by a single run to be precise, 136* vs 135*. Granted, Pope’s innings was scored against a hostile South African bowling attack, in a Test match, at the actual St George’s Park, in front of an expectant crowd and broadcast to millions around the world.
My ton, on the other hand, was scored for Port Elizabeth CC against a club I never knew the name of, in a random South African local league, at the training ground next to the actual St George’s Park, while I was on a gap year, in front of nobody and the scorecard was shown to my Facebook friends after the game.
Thinking about it now, the two aren’t really comparable. The one similarity, I suppose, is that we’re both ginger. You know what? I’ll take that.