Injury setback, technical tweak provide catalyst for Pope's first test century

By Mark Gleeson
South Africa v England - Third Test

By Mark Gleeson

PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa (Reuters) - A dislocated shoulder last year and a three-month layoff proved a blessing in disguise for Ollie Pope as he celebrated a maiden test century for England on Friday, helping them take a firm grip on the third test against South Africa at St George’s Park.

Pope hit an unbeaten 135 as England declared on 499 for nine and then snagged two home wickets before stumps on Friday.

Pope suffered the injury fielding for Surrey last April, necessitating surgery and ruling him out of contention for the Ashes just when he was emerging as a real prospect for England.

“Three months out gave me a real hunger to come back,” he said on Friday after attaining the milestone.

During the injury layoff he sat down with Surrey batting coach Vikram Solanki to work on plans to improve, even while still on the treatment table.

“The way I was getting out the most was pushing at that fifth stump, balls that I should probably be leaving.

“So we decided that I should move slightly across on my crease. That, from a technical point of view, was the main thing that helped me improve as it allowed me to line up my off stump, so that I can leave the ball well and defend close to my front pad.”

Pope, who turned 22 at the start of the month, has a remarkable first class average of 58.30 and is earmarked for a long test career, having an uncanny similarity to captain Joe Root at the same age.

Illness meant he missed the first test in Pretoria but he played an important role in Cape Town as England levelled the four-match series last week with 61 runs in the first innings.

On Friday, it all came together as Pope resumed on 39 overnight, sped his way to 50 and then battled through much of the rest of the day before reaching his century.

“It’s quite hard to put into words how I felt,” he said of the moment he got to three figures.

“I was lucky enough to see Dom Sibley get his first (test) hundred last week and Ben Foakes in Sri Lanka too. I sat there watching them and thinking it must be an amazing feeling, so to go and do it today was awesome.

“It was really special looking up to the change room and seeing how happy the boys were. We really enjoy each other’s success.”

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)