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India v England Test series: Ollie Pope showing suggests tourists have found long-term number three

England's Ollie Pope was in fabulous form on the third day of the first Test against India in Hyderabad, with his unbeaten century providing Ben Stokes' team with an unlikely route to a possible victory.

There is still a long way to go as they look to build on a 126-run lead and at 316-6, England are 9/2 to win and take the lead in the best-of-five contest, while India are 1/6 to get off to a winning start.

However, the quality of Pope's unbeaten 148 will be viewed with longer-term considerations, with it hoped that the tourists could have found the solution to their perennial problem of who is best to bat at number three.

A difficult position for England

There is no escaping the fact that England have found it difficult to find a batsman to immediately follow the openers since Jonathan Trott's five-year stint at number three ended when he left the Ashes tour of 2013.

England have explored several options since and the main issue has been their best batsman Joe Root voicing his preference to go in at four, even though he has proved to be their top performer further up the order.

Moeen Ali had a go but, having batted in all of the top nine positions during his Test career, it was difficult to see him being more than a stop-gap, while four number threes featured in six Tests during the winter of 2018.

Those included Stokes himself and there were also discussions about him being a permanent option last summer as his knee injury meant he could do little with the ball. 

He will undoubtedly have his supporters to fill the role, while the priority will be for Zak Crawley to continue to build his career as an opener, despite scoring 267 while batting at three against Pakistan in Southampton in 2020.

That was the second-ever highest score by an England number three but masked his other performances, as he was only able to average 10 at the position without that knock.

However, there has always been a strong suspicion that Pope could be the one who could make the spot his own and his knock in Hyderabad did a lot to boost his claims.

Pope flourishes in England fightback

The Surrey batsman was superb in his unbeaten 148 and his dogged determination gave England a foothold in the game after it earlier appeared they could be defeated within three days when they found themselves at 163-5, having started their second innings 190 runs behind. 

There have been times in the past when Pope has been criticised for perhaps taking the so-called 'Bazball' philosophy too far, giving his wicket away cheaply in the pursuit of runs, but that was not the case here.

He played confidently against the spin attack in his first Test since he underwent a shoulder operation that cut short his Ashes last summer and it was a marked contrast from his first-innings efforts, when he scored just one off 11 balls.

A heavy runscorer in the county game, comparisons had already been made with players such as Graeme Hick and Mark Ramprakash, who were unable to fulfill their promise at Test level, but it was an effort of maturity for a player whose previous best score in India was 34 in Chennai in 2021.

He played a starring role as England became the first team since 2012 to score more than 300 in a second innings in India and his patient, yet skilful knock, included 17 fours.

Root could be a big beneficiary

Pope's emergence as the go-to number three could be a big boost for Root, who scored just two in the second innings.

Root remains England's best player of spin and will have to have a big impact if his side are to claim a series victory this winter. Any strong starts the team make ahead of his entry at number four will allow the Yorkshireman to flourish.

If Pope continues, there is also the chance that he will have some pressure lifted off his shoulders, which could be handy as he looks set to play a prominent role with the ball too.

Top spinner Jack Leach has been restricted with injury and Root stepped up to take 4-79 in the India innings, so England may need to see more than that.

And just as Root needs the top three to settle in, Pope needs to see Crawley and Ben Duckett establish themselves early at the top of the order and they did that in the second innings.

They had an opening stand of 45 and Duckett was able to contribute 47 himself, and it undoubtedly helped Pope that he didn't enter the fray with his back against the wall.

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