Day 2 of the fourth Test at The Oval started with Umesh Yadav rattling England once again to scalp two early wickets but maybe that was it for India as the England lower-middle order showed tremendous grit to seal a 99-run first innings lead. At stumps, India were 43 with ten wickets in hand.
Gritty Ollie Pope
Ollie Pope straight away reminds you of former Three Lions batsman Ian Bell. The stance, the stride, the overall mannerism and also the look to some extent. The 23-year-old did not get to prove his mettle in the first three Tests. In the fourth, the absence of Jos Buttler opened the door for the Surrey batsman.
England's batting has been a concern for some time now. Dom Sibley faced the axe recently and a new opening pair of Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed are opening for the hosts now. With seniors Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler struggling, Joe Root has been the only consistent batsman for England in the format this year. Bairstow, who has scores of 29, 30, 57, 2, 29 and 37 in his last six innings, has been touted as England's second-best batsman.
Umesh Yadav rattled England early again on Friday and reduced England to 62 for 5 but the Ollie Pope happened. An 89-run partnership with Bairstow before stitching 71 more runs with Moeen Ali (35).
Indian bowlers lost their sheen as soon as the sun came out over The Oval, allowing Pope to play his strokes freely to score a 159-ball 81. The way the Chelsea-born applied himself will give a major boost to the struggling line-up which will soon undergo a stiff test Down Under during the Ashes.
Chris Woakes dreamy Test cricket return
32-year-old Chris Woakes played a Test match after a year but showed no signs of nerves whatsoever. After removing Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Rishabh Pant, and Shardul Thakur during India's first innings, Woakes stood tall after Pope's departure to do exactly what Shardul Thakur did for India - score a quickfire fifty to help his team post 290.
For the final wicket, the all-rounder added 35 runs off just 40 balls with James Anderson (1*). The 6-feet-2-inch tall cricketer came in to bat at No. 9 and definitely made the tail wag under his watch.
Not to forget, Woakes has effectively solved two problems for the hosts. He replaced Sam Curran the all-rounder and delivered on the expectations. Also, in the absence of premier pacers like Stuart Broad and Mark Wood, the Birmingham-born has solved yet another problem for the England cricket team management.
England's one short of a hundred lead
354-run first-innings lead proved enough for England in the third in Leeds. In fact, they did not even bat for the second time and won the match by an innings and 76 runs.
On Friday in London, England managed their second consecutive first-innings lead over the visitors. Bairstow, Pope, Ali, and Woakes joined forces to frustrate the Indian pacers and gain a 99-run lead. India managed to bring down the deficit to 56 runs at stumps on Day 2 but the impact of England's 'one short of hundred lead' will be known only in the first hour of Saturday. Overcast conditions are the forecast and we could just be in for another James Anderson show.
The on-air commentators called the 99-run advantage a "dangerous lead". Moments before these comments, Virat Kohli was seen frowning over a loose Shardul Thakur delivery which was smashed for a boundary by Woakes.
It might sound harsh but the lead might just be enough to create a difference in the match and end India's dream of winning a much-awaited Test series in England.