Ollie Pope Century takes his stats to a new level

Ollie Pope's century takes his stats to a new level: Getty Images / Ben Hoskins

Ollie Pope’s century takes his stats to a new level: Getty Images / Ben Hoskins

In the five years since his Test debut, Ollie Pope has left no one in doubt of his abilities, yet a frightening gap has emerged in his portfolio while playing for England, which he began to plug when he scored a glittering century for county champions Surrey against one of their main rivals, Hampshire.

Pope, 25, achieved an odd record: a batting average of 43 in his first innings in Tests and just 16 in his second innings. Only one other English batsman has ever had a greater mismatch.

Shaping off an imperious and unbeaten 122 off only 102 balls in his second innings, after Surrey had been set what was initially a tough target of 247 by Hampshire, should help Pope close this gap in his Test record, which is more significant than an oddity statistic.

When Pope played his last Test and England were set 258 by New Zealand at Wellington and lost by a run, Pope contributed no more than a frantic 14 in his second innings, giving the impression that it was so desperate to win he failed to go through the normal batting processes. Next time England chase a goal, Pope—and his supporters—may feel more confident about his second innings.

Wicketkeepers tire more than most players as Tests go by, but Pope has only kept wicket in three Tests, so there was more to this second innings run shortage.

The only English batsman to have a greater difference between first and second innings average in Tests was Nottinghamshire’s Joe Hardstaff junior: 64 for 23. He played either side of the Second World War, an era in which all cricketers outside England were amateurs, and when players could celebrate after scoring a century. Hardstaff was a man who enjoyed a party.

Pope was aided by two former England batsmen, Rory Burns and Dominic Sibley, who beat Hampshire making 54 for the first wicket. Overall Surrey needed around four runs per over and went to just over two when Burns was out.

Pope’s first innings of 91 had kept Surrey in the game; the latter tore Hampshire apart in his partnership with Sibley, returning to his original county after six summers at Warwickshire: slightly more sideways and no less sure of his legs, though still unsettled by the ball that dragged him out to play from the stump.

“The boys are thrilled because Hampshire will be one of our toughest opponents this summer,” Pope said afterward. “There’s a lot of amazing talent in our dressing room and everyone is really happy that we were able to win in this match.

“I’m very happy with the way I played and it was good to bat with Dom (Sibley) in that partnership. He has also played superbly and will be getting many more 50-plus scores this season.

“It was hard work in the first innings in overcast conditions against their offense, and although I was annoyed to go out for 91, it was all good once I got back to the dressing room. I felt cold because overall I had played well.

“Our fast bowlers were also brilliant in this game and it was their efforts that gave us a chance to chase that kind of total. It was a newball wicket, which is why the efforts of Dom and Rory Burns up top were so important, but it got easier to bat once the ball got softer.

As Sibley built up, Pope soared to the sublime in some of his jabs until he could have been Joe Root at his boldest, and was perhaps even more nimble in his footwork. Hampshire’s top-class offense was dismantled before Pope finished the game running into stoppages by Felix Organ on back-to-back sixes.

Pope has now hit 11 first-class hundreds at the Oval in only 36 innings, and averages 96 there. Don Bradman had a first-class average over 100 at many grounds. Of the England batsmen, Wally Hammond averaged 110 at Sydney and over 200 at three county grounds. Of modern hitters Pope, more than most, feels at home when he plays at home.

A second Cranleigh alumni has made a significant impact for Surrey: Tom Lawes, a fast-medium bowler who could get faster given he’s only 20 years old. He took six wickets, including Liam Dawson with a perfect outswinger first time out and Nick Gubbins with old ball in Hampshire’s second innings. Surrey then swept Hampshire’s last four wickets for just 14 runs off the second new ball and chased down the target with papal panache and nine wickets to spare.

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