|Third Test, Emirates Old Trafford (day one of five)|
|England 258-4 (85.4 overs): Pope 91*, Burns 57, Buttler 56*|
|West Indies: Yet to bat|
Ollie Pope’s classy 91 not out gave England the upper hand on the first day of the deciding Test against West Indies at Emirates Old Trafford.
Pope added an unbroken 136 with Jos Buttler, who is on 56, to push England to 258-4, taking the initiative for the hosts in the evening gloom following two sessions of back-and-forth.
In reducing England to 122-4, West Indies had the chance to seize control after winning the toss and choosing to field for the second time in as many weeks.
The opportunity was accentuated by England’s decision to cover for Ben Stokes being unable to bowl by omitting batsman Zak Crawley in favour of an extra paceman – Chris Woakes at seven gave a lengthy look to the lower order.
But Pope and Buttler rattled along, and Pope was only denied a century before the close by bad light ending play with 4.2 overs left.
They have left England as favourites to win this Test, the three-match series, and deny West Indies a first success in this country since 1988.
As they bid to regain the Wisden Trophy – set to be replaced by a prize named after legendary pair Sir Ian Botham and Sir Viv Richards – they will have to be mindful of the Manchester weather.
Rain is forecast for the rest of the match, with days two and four looking at most risk.
Arm wrestle in red
Even without fans, Emirates Old Trafford was still given a red tinge for the Ruth Strauss Foundation. The numbers on the players’ shirts are red and they wore red caps before play began.
For all of the speculation surrounding who might make up England’s pace attack, and the attention given to Jofra Archer since he missed the second Test, both he and James Anderson were recalled as the home side altered the balance of their side.
Their shortened batting line-up was put under the spotlight by the West Indies’ decision to field in conditions offering just enough encouragement for the bowlers.
For two absorbing sessions, the teams jockeyed for position, with England often pressured by a West Indies side showing more life than their defeat in the second Test.
That, though, was reversed by the free scoring of Pope and Buttler, the fifth-wicket pair not only showing that the pitch is suited to strokeplay, but also sucking the energy from an increasingly ragged Windies.
They moved England into a position from where they can bat West Indies out of the game, and perhaps even negate the effect of any rain to come.
Pope and Buttler deliver
Pope and Buttler were under separate pressures to deliver – Pope after being preferred to Crawley, wicketkeeper Buttler without a half-century in his previous seven Tests.
They did so in a wonderful partnership that bumped along with busy running between the wickets and regular peppering of the boundary.
The only moment of alarm was when Pope, on 30, top-edged a pull off Shannon Gabriel that just evaded the dive of Roston Chase running towards deep mid-wicket.
Reprieved, Pope played elegant off-drives, dabs to third man and clips off his toes on the way to his highest score in a Test in England.
Buttler, feeling his way, was careful in having only three from 31 balls. When he flicked the switch, he lofted off-spinner Rahkeem Cornwall for two leg-side sixes in the same over and followed up with rubber-wristed drives through the covers.
Even the second new ball could not halt Pope, who responded with a glorious on-drive off Kemar Roach, and he is primed for a second Test century at the age of only 22.
Windies fade after strong start
West Indies’ decision to field paid immediate dividends when Dom Sibley played across Roach to be lbw to the sixth ball of the match.
The sight of Gabriel hobbling off in the eighth over would have been particularly alarming given the decision to drop a pace bowler in favour of Cornwall, but Gabriel returned to play a full part and the tourists worked their way through the top order.
Joe Root was brilliantly run out by Chase’s pick-up and throw and Stokes was bowled through the gate after being softened up by Roach’s short balls.
And, when Cornwall took a superb reaction catch at slip to dismiss Rory Burns for 57, West Indies were primed to take charge.
Little went right for the tourists thereafter. Off-spinner Chase, who took five wickets in the last Test, was strangely underused, wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich endured a difficult day and the pace bowlers could not contain Pope and Buttler.
The decision to delay taking the new ball by two overs was further evidence of muddled thinking, and they would have been relieved when the light intervened.
‘Bad session might have cost Windies the series’ – analysis
Former England captain Michael Vaughan on Test Match Special: “That final session will have cost the West Indies the Wisden Trophy unless bad light and weather comes into the situation.
“The England side were very, very good in that session. Particularly Ollie Pope, I was very impressed with the way he read the situation and was busy. He played some wonderful strokes.
“Jos Buttler played a stable innings. It looked like he’d found his balance.”
England’s Ollie Pope talking to Test Match Special: “It feels nice, especially have missed out so far in the series.
“In this intense environment you can spend too much time thinking about your failures. Hopefully I sleep well. I’ll take a sleeping pill – I normally do when I’m not out – and hopefully I’ll hit the hay pretty hard.”
On Michael Vaughan saying he’s England’s best young player since Joe Root: “It’s a massive compliment, especially from an ex-captain and one of the greats. I take it as a massive positive, I don’t necessarily see it as added pressure.”