'Weight off my shoulders': Pope leads England revival in Windies decider
Ollie Pope's superb 91 not out helped England recover on the first day of the deciding third Test against the West Indies at Old Trafford on Friday with the batsman admitting "it's a weight off my shoulders".
England were in trouble at 122-4, with second Test century-makers Dom Sibley and Ben Stokes, as well as captain Joe Root, all out cheaply.
But Pope, who ended the day in sight of his second Test hundred and the under-pressure Jos Buttler, 56 not out, shared an unbroken stand of 136 that left England on 258-4 when bad light forced an early close.
Pope's effort was all the more admirable as his first three innings this series had yielded scores of just 12, 12 and seven.
He was unbeaten on another 12 as England completed a 113-run win in the second Test, also at Old Trafford, to leave this three-match contest all square at 1-1.
"It does feel like a little bit of a weight off the shoulders," Pope told Sky Sports.
International cricket's first series since the lockdown has seen both teams confined to on-site hotels at both the Ageas Bowl, the venue in Southampton for the first Test, and Old Trafford.
Pope said he had struggled with being unable to return home between Tests.
"To be honest, I've found it challenging being in such an intense environment -- not being able to get out and see family," explained the 22-year-old Surrey batsman.
"You go back to your room and you're back looking over the cricket pitch."
West Indies captain Jason Holder won the toss and his decision to field was defended by opening batsman Kraigg Brathwaite.
"There was moisture in the wicket, and we thought as a team we wanted to utilise it," he said.
"They (England) got a good partnership, but I don't think we're out of it, to be honest."
England brought in express quick Jofra Archer and veteran spearhead James Anderson for the dropped pair of batsman Zak Crawley and left-arm paceman Sam Curran.
Opening batsman Sibley, who made a near eight-hour hundred in the second Test, fell for a five-ball duck when lbw to fast bowler Kemar Roach.
Root run out
In came Root, who gifted his wicket on 17 when, going for a risky single, he was run out by Roston Chase's direct hit from backward point.
Stokes, now the world's top-ranked all-rounder after innings of 176 and 78 not out in the second Test, was effectively playing as a specialist batsman after a quad injury cast doubt over his bowling fitness.
He was, however, brilliantly set up by Roach who, having tested him with a couple of short balls, clean bowled the left-handed batsman with one that seamed back.
Rory Burns made a composed fifty before the recalled Rahkeem Cornwall, belying his 6ft 6in and some 22 stone frame, held an outstanding one-handed slip catch following a fiercely-edged cut off fellow spinner Chase.
Pope had a lucky break on 30 when a miscued pull off Shannon Gabriel evaded a diving Chase, running back from mid-on.
World Cup-winning wicket-keeper Buttler, whose Test place was under threat following 13 innings without a fifty, upped the tempo by hoisting spinner Cornwall for two sixes in four balls.
"The way Jos plays, if he's in, he's going to be scoring runs pretty fluently," said Pope, who entered the 90s with an elegant on-driven four off Roach.
Archer had been omitted from the second Test after making an unauthorised trip home that breached England's bio-secure 'bubble'.
But even though no fans are allowed into grounds in a behind closed doors series, this year's #RedForRuth initiative still raised £282,385 ($361,243) on Friday.
Former England captain Andrew Strauss helped establish a charity after his wife Ruth died from a rare form of lung cancer affecting non-smokers in 2018.
The Ruth Strauss Foundation also assists families facing the death of a parent.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Martin Rickett