FEATURE: Buttler, Pope overcome mental hurdles to dig England out of trouble | ENG v WI, 3rd Test

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With England reduced to 122 for 4 before tea on the first day of the series deciding final Test against West Indies at Manchester, there wasn’t much we could expect from the batsmen who found themselves in the middle of that situation. For on one side of the crease was Ollie Pope — a batsman who had accumulated just 43 runs in the series till then, at a dismal average of 14.33 — and on the other side was Jos Buttler, whose returns of 84 runs at an average of 21 in the series were not good either.

However, despite being in such an adverse situation, the duo overcame their mental hurdles and went on the countercharge post tea to bring an end to their rough patch. Instead of being submissive to the West Indies bowlers in such a precarious situation, Pope and Buttler chose to approach their innings with positivity and optimism.

Yes, there was a period initially when both batsmen focused on digging in and settling themselves down at the crease. But once they had done that, they started carting the West Indies bowlers all around the park, before going inside their shells to protect their wickets towards the end of the day’s play once again.

Their fabulous effort — a fifth wicket stand of an unbeaten 136 runs — saw England ending the day on a good total of 258 for 4, something that looked like a distant dream when these two batsmen were new at the crease.

While Pope ended the day on a score of 91, Buttler remained unbeaten on 56. In fact, this was Pope’s first fifty in eight innings at home. In a career spanning nine Tests prior to this match, Pope had accumulated just 97 runs at home, at a poor average of 16.16 once again. These returns were in stark contrast to that of his performances in overseas conditions, though. Pope averages 62.66 away from home with a total tally of 376 runs, which includes a century and three fifties as well.

Buttler, on the other hand, had his own demons to fight. He had gone 14 innings without a fifty prior to this knock. The last time he went past the fifty-run mark was against Australia at The Oval in September last year.

Moreover, he doesn’t have the best of records as a wicketkeeper-batsman in Tests either. Prior to this knock, his batting average was the fourth worst among wicketkeeper-batsmen who have batted in a minimum of 35 innings since 2000.

So this knock gave the 29-year-old some much needed relief as pressure was mounting on him with criticism coming from every nook and corner. A lot of credit goes to the management and skipper Joe Root as well for keeping their faith in him.

 

“If you look at the last game, both times he was left in a situation where he basically gave his wicket up for the good of the group. That’s the sort of player he is and how he goes about his cricket. That’s why he’s so vital to our team: because he’s willing to play in a manner that suits the situation that we need from him at any given point,” ESPNcricinfo had quoted Root as saying before the match.

Many pundits had opined about dropping Buttler for the final Test but the kudos to the England team setup who kept their faith in him. The same goes for their decision of persisting with Ollie Pope and it shows how good a job they are doing when it comes to backing their players.

About Prasenjit Dey

Prasenjit Dey is freelance cricket journalist based out of Kolkata, India. Cricket runs through his veins and writing has always been his passion. He is now a part of both worlds, trying to make a difference by writing on the nitty-gritty of the game.

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