Ollie Pope had his England team-mates in awe with a remarkable century in the first Test against India, leaving Joe Root scrambling for superlatives.
Root finally settled on “absolute masterclass” as he tried to sum up Pope’s unbeaten 148 on day three in Hyderabad, fine words from a man with more than 11,000 Test runs and 30 centuries under his belt.
England were 190 runs behind when they started their second innings, but Pope defied the perilous match situation, an unpredictable pitch and a world-class bowling attack to produce a career-best knock.
He overcame all three as he hit 17 fours over 208 deliveries and he carried the tourists to 316 for six – a handy lead of 126, in circumstances that could easily have produced an innings defeat.
That it all came in his first match back after six months sidelined by shoulder surgery, on a surface where the next best score from either team stands at 87, was even more impressive.
Should England somehow find a route to an unlikely victory over the next two days, it will surely go down as an all-time classic.
“I’m speechless really…it’s one of the best knocks I’ve ever seen,” said Root.
“I’ve seen a lot of cricket, I’ve played and batted out there in the middle with a lot of brilliant players and to witness that was really special. There’s a lot of people in our dressing room that have seen and played a lot of cricket that are of the same mind as I am.
“The way that Popey played today, honestly, it’s an absolute masterclass in how to bat in these conditions as an overseas player. We all know he’s got an array of shots and can score all round the wicket, but to have the self-belief and desire to put a score together for the team and get us to where we are now was outstanding.
“The maturity he showed, the smarts, the way he manoeuvred the field…it was unbelievable. You sit here very emotional being part of it, but I’m sure I’ll sit back and still be impressed and wowed by the way he’s played.”
“I’m not any more, I think that’s the benchmark,” he said.
“I might have scored a few runs in the sub-continent but not on a surface like that, against an attack like that.
“I didn’t even mind when he ‘big dogged’ me and said, ‘Can you do the press tonight?’ He spoke this morning in front of the group and and he’s grasped the moment, taken responsibility and backed it up in his actions. That’s what you want from leaders within the dressing room.
“As an old-timer in this team, it’s great to see these young lads coming in, really putting their stamp on things and leading from the front.”
It is understood he is suffering from pain and swelling, but Root is full of positivity about the way his side have taken the fight to hosts who have lost just three times in their last 46 games at home.
“Regardless of what happens for the rest of the game, I think we’ve laid down some good markers and shown that we have got the tools and skills to really compete in these conditions,” he said.
“Dream the dream. We’ll go to bed and think of what could be tomorrow, then throw everything at the day.”