Surrey 270 (Pope 91, Abbas 6-64) and 247 for 1 (Pope 122*, Sibley 79*) beat Hampshire 254 (Brown 95, Lawes 4-58) and 258 (Gubbins 84, Worrall 5-40) by nine wickets
Sometimes, scorecards can lie. This one for the first meeting of Surrey and Hampshire in the 2023 County Championship is doing just that.
Because this was a close game. No, really. At least for the most part. For the first three-and-a-half days, the back-and-forth between these two elite foes was straight out of a Tarantino flick. Unfortunately, so was the finish – a one-way slaughter inflicted by a sole protagonist.
Neither had given much away, but Hampshire arrived at the Kia Oval on Sunday in possession of the better hand. Even when their lead of 182 was eventually capped at 242, Surrey’s task of knocking those off was far from certain against an international calibre attack on a pitch now scarred with indentations.
There’s no wrong place to start with Pope’s brain-melting 122 not out, but we might as well go straight to the beginning of the evening session. Because, really, that’s what you’re here for – the brutality.
That was when this suddenly became a one-sided, nine-wicket pasting. Maybe it’s unfair on Hampshire to describe it as such, but to see their XI powerless to stop an assault that saw the remaining 145 runs ticked off in 20.2 overs underlined the tectonic shift in proceedings. Pope was responsible for 100 of them in 70 deliveries, and who knows how many scars.
Perhaps the most damaging offshoot of Pope’s innings was it made you forget how difficult cricket really is.
He straight drove Mohammad Abbas for four, then cut him backwards of point the following over. With that, a thought – why don’t more batters try that against a bowler who averages 23 in Test cricket and 18.31 in the Championship?
Faced with a bouncer from James Fuller, Pope stepped out of the way and helped it over the keeper’s head, like it was a roll of toilet paper and he was trying to teepee the Pavilion. Given the risk associated with the pull shot – not least to your physical health – why don’t more players do that? This way looks easier and more fun, too.
Even those in the stands, hooting and hollering throughout this 11th first-class century at the Oval like it was his first, started taking it for granted. In the last 15 minutes, a botched reverse paddle drew loud sighs from Surrey supporters now drunk on boundaries, as if it were a call for last orders. Pope sorted them out with ones for the road, finishing the match with back-to-back sixes off Felix Organ into the Vauxhall End.
It’s important to note this was far more than England’s No.3 indulging in a rascal hand for the sake of it. There was as much application here as in his first innings of 91 in tough conditions across days two and three. The acceleration from a chilled start of 22 off 32 going into the tea break was very much governed by the light. When he and Sibley walked back out at 4pm, it did not look like it would hold until 6pm, which would have left around 16 overs unbowled. Both sides were shaking hands by 5:20pm.
Sibley was far more than just a stagehand in Pope’s one-man show, by the way. He offered a useful counter-point for the 63 runs he provided to the match-sealing stand of 193, and a very different right-hander to bowl to. He riffed off Pope with some outrageous shots of his own, at least relative to the tucks to midwicket he had subsisted on before that final break. Beyond more intent with his shots, there was a bit of innovation when he pulled out a switch of feet but not of hands to sweep a rare boundary on the off side. The last 43 of his 79 runs came off 52 deliveries.
The manner of the finish belies the situation hours earlier, when it really felt Surrey would need more of the 72 overs left in the day to chase their target of 243. That they had that many to work with was a testament to their bowlers, who polished off Hampshire’s second innings early enough for Burns and Sibley to have a 20-minute taster before lunch.
Surrey needed just 22 overs to take the remaining five wickets, and did so with such control that only 45 was added to the overnight lead. That was ultimately achieved with the first dismissal of the day when Tom Lawes had Nick Gubbins caught by Sibley at first slip.
Gubbins began Sunday with 79 from the night before, and was understandably watchful, leaving plenty of deliveries Lawes was angling across him. Rather than snare the left-hander with one that came back in, Lawes simply tweaked his line straighter. It was enough for Gubbins to offer the bat – and in turn, the edge – as the 20-year-old found enough seam movement with the old ball.
After keeping tabs on the scoring until the new ball, Kemar Roach struck twice, removing the dangerous James Fuller and then knocking back Kyle Abbott’s off stump. At the other end, Dan Worrall rounded out a third five-wicket haul for the club, bouncing out Keith Barker and then finishing off Hampshire by claiming Abbas lbw.
Those seamers spent the rest of the day with their feet up, getting on them to salute Pope’s century, which he got to with a four clipped through square leg off his 93rd delivery. They remained standing until the final blows confirmed a win achieved by more than just one man, even if he’s the only one we’re going to rave about.
With that sizeable red ink, not only does Pope now average 99.62 for Surrey at his home ground, but he is also averaging 125.88 against Hampshire across 12 knocks. This was a sixth hundred at their expense.
More importantly, Surrey are up and running in their title defence. Victory after last week’s stalemate at Lancashire takes them second and is a sizeable blow to a Hampshire outfit gunning for the crown after starting their own campaign with a comprehensive victory over Nottinghamshire.
These two will meet again in the season’s final round, which was earmarked as a potential winner-takes-all encounter before the season began. This match does not change that on paper, but the manner of the result will test Hampshire’s resolve. As will the fact that, with Test cricket done by August and international white ball set-up strong enough to not need him, Pope will be back looking to lay it on them again.
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo