Updated: Feb 19
On Wednesday, I played my first cricket game for over a year. Despite hours of practice with my brother in the back garden, I was bowled by an off-break for a two ball duck. My brother bowls predominantly spin to me, and I know, if I don't get stuck with my feet, I can play spin quite confidently. Anything short or good of a length is played deep in the crease, anything fuller means advancing to control the spin. And yet, under the pressure of an actual game, I got stuck in the crease and was bowled.
Ollie Pope's innings yesterday saw him play spin as though he'd played for years in the subcontinent. When Roston Chase or Rakheem Cornwall bowled back of a length to Pope, he was quickly on the back foot, turning to leg or knocking into the off side. Then, when a ball was fuller, he came out his crease and got bat and body behind the ball and the spin. His playing of spin is phenomenal. At the age of just 22, he has a very bright future for England.
In his classy 91* yesterday, Pope drew praise from Sachin Tendulkar. It was a gorgeous innings, with caressing flicks through the on-side, drives with lazy flair through the covers. He took the game away from the West Indies. What makes it more impressive is given the obvious praise he has been lauded with overnight, the fact that his innings was not flawless is lost. He had a drive just wide of gully, a flicked pull that just escaped a catcher. Every batsmen makes mistakes, and when they do the praise is normally a little less gushing. And yet Ben Jones of CricViz wrote a piece praising his skill and temperament and judgement at the crease, Mike Atherton's report in the Times was headlined that Pope was "England's great young hope". It goes to show that despite an innings, although beautiful, not flawless, with chances offered, the few mistakes made are ignored, and the drives, flicks, cuts and punches are worshipped. Only great players get this reception.
Pope should look to go big today. His discipline against the new ball, ease against the spinners and confidence will help him. For the rest of us, we need a lot more practice on impact points against spinners. Ollie Pope does not-he is that good.