Ollie Pope interview: ‘I kick myself for the way I played in Australia, but I’m ready to beat No3’


llie Pope was strolling along the Cornish coast on Tuesday night when he realized he had missed a call from one of his childhood heroes, Brendon McCullum.

Pope had never spoken to the new England Test manager before but knew what the fuss was about and dismissed him instantly, ‘not expecting good news’. On a cracking line from India, McCullum told him not only was he back in England’s Test squad, but he would hit the No.3, a job he never did in first-class cricket.

The promotion to the first drop was not a total surprise. When Pope heard that Joe Root’s return to the ranks would see him drop to his favorite No4, he texted new captain Ben Stokes to inquire about the No3 position.

Stokes has wanted Pope higher up the order in the past (in December he asked management to swap the pair for the Melbourne Test, so he could return to No 6, where he is currently serving; instead, Pope was dropped). Pope’s new idea was therefore well received, so he asked Stokes and batting coach Marcus Trescothick if he should try the job for Surrey against Kent last week. Their advice was to stay at No. 4 and keep scoring points, which he did with 96 which took his season’s average to 69.5.

Pope beats four for Surrey because they have Hashim Amla at No 3, and he turned to him for advice yesterday. His message was simple: “It’s a different ball from No4”.

“Hash felt I was ready for the move, and so was I,” Pope told Standard Sport. “A year or two ago, at bat three, I might have said ‘wow, that’s high’. But with the work I’ve done, I feel ready for this opportunity now.

“I know I didn’t [before], but the way I’ve run my innings this year, my game is definitely suited for it. I feel like I have the game to beat higher. I think I’m up for this challenge to up the order and get my hands dirty, dictate innings early, organize games.

As MD Rob Key said yesterday, England hope working with Stokes and McCullum and added responsibilities can ‘unlock’ Pope, who has become an enigmatic talent. A promising Test career has become a struggle since the pandemic, with injuries and dips in form taking his Test average below 29 after 23 matches.

“I wish the last Tests had gone better, but having had the experiences I have under my belt at 24, some of the best Test players didn’t even make their debuts then,” he said. “I’ve learned lessons, some of them the hard way, and I feel ready to move on.”

With the work I have done, I feel ready for this opportunity now.

Despite his testing difficulties, each time he returns to Surrey he racks up the races. He averages 73 for them and 94 at the Kia Oval. His record away from the Oval isn’t bad either: his lowest away tally this season is 58, and his overall away League average is 44.

“I also score outside the Ring, but not necessarily the monsters I had there,” he says. “It makes me laugh when people say that. I’m sure I’ve been a little hesitant on social media over the years, but if it was that simple at The Ring, would everyone be doing it? It’s something that pissed me off a bit, but hopefully this year I can show that I can score them outside the ring too.

Races have sunk again this summer, earning him this recall, but his bullish tone is built on changes made since his last Test, a wayward recall to Hobart for the final game in an Ashes series he’s “staying away from.” fuck the mess”. In the end, a simple technique had gotten tangled up and he was bowled behind his legs in Hobart.

“I tried to change too much, rather than sticking to what I’m good at,” he says. “If I’m honest, I was probably a little confused about how I wanted to play.

“Because I tried to tinker too much in the middle of the series, I was going into the game thinking about my feet, my hands, rather than just looking at the ball.

“I wouldn’t say I let the opportunity slip away, but I tried to change things too quickly, rather than sticking to what worked for me and what I was doing. I learned a lot from their hitters on how to hit those wickets. The amount they leave, the accuracy with which they score.

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“A big part of me wishes I could go back and start all over again. I hope I can, because I look back and I kinda don’t care how I played because I tinkered with the basics of the stick too much. I hope I will look back on this experience at the end of the summer because I have a great chance to put things in place now.

Pope was selected for the Caribbean tour, but left out of the XI. While it was hard to watch his teammates rack up big scores on flat ground in Antigua and Barbados, he now sees it as a blessing in disguise. It allowed him his own “pre-season camp” with Trescothick, and realigned his game not only technically, but mentally. The main focus has been on the drills on where his off-stump is and limiting his trigger movement.

“What I realized in the Ashes was that when my beans went off, my moves got bigger and I took positions that I wasn’t considering,” he says. “I tried to tighten everything up and make my triggers as repeatable as possible. But it’s all about decision-making. If I make the right decisions with the balls I’m defending and leaving, my game is in the right place .

“I came into the county season without playing for a recall to England. I kept my head down and tried to improve my stick. If that happened, great.

“What I’m happy about is how I scored my points rather than volume or average or whatever. The scoring processes, the low risk game I played was the real satisfying thing The hard work I’ve put in since that trip to Australia, the little things I’ve changed have really done me good.

Two weeks today at Lord’s, Pope has the chance to show off these changes on the biggest stage.

standard Sport

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