England in Pakistan 2022-23 – Ollie Pope earns senior status after tasting England leadership

Ole Pope only knew a day earlier that he would captain England in their warm-up match against the Lions in Abu Dhabi. Sitting down to breakfast with Zach Crowley and Jack Leach at the team’s plush Ritz-Carlton hotel, head coach Brendon McCullum casually laid hands on him and told them he would lead in Ben Stokes’ absence.

“Classic rebuttal,” says Pope. “He was like, ‘You’re going to be captain this week – is everything good?’ And I was like, ‘Absolutely, I’m looking forward to it’.

There are two things going on here. The first is that McCullum and Stokes want to challenge the players to take on more responsibility and grow as voices in the dressing room. The other is Pope, apart from being an immensely talented batsman, he is identified as someone who can be brought out of his shell a bit for the benefit of himself and those around him.

That Pope called Stokes after his appointment as Test captain, and more or less demanded that he bat at No. 3, rather changed the perception of a boyish scamp who couldn’t help but be outside the off-stump. Can go on anything. And management clearly believes it has more of that kind of character. Taking him out of his comfort zone – he had only captained professional cricket once before, in September 2021, for Surrey in a county championship match against Glamorgan – was clearly his way of bringing him out. .

Pope’s first day as deputy was spent largely at the crease, bowling out the Lions for 146 as England posted 501 for 7. The second day was one of leather chasing as the Lions left their senior counterparts in the dirt with 411 for 9. Alas, there was no third day in the gig as England opted for a two-hour training session instead. So, how did he find it?

“I actually enjoyed it,” says Pope. “I was curious about what it would be like to captain someone like Jimmy.” [James Anderson] But I really enjoyed it. I wasn’t sure if he would want to set the field his way but it was cool and we bounced ideas around.

“It was a pretty flat wicket so, on a pitch like that, it makes it a bit more difficult for Jimmy to just take four slips and he’ll just kill everybody. You have to get different batsmen out. Had to find ways and that. It was good to try to be creative like that, but I enjoyed it and got all the guys involved.”

Pope said he would never really consider the captaincy. Apart from working for Cranleigh School and Surrey Under-17s, it wasn’t something he aspired to. The tag of FEC (Future England Captain) stuck to him early in his career, only because of his undoubted ability which saw him make 30 against India in the summer of 2018 at the age of just 20. Saw the first Caps win.

Four years on, and heading into a historic tour of Pakistan, he seems a little more reticent when addressing leadership – both in the long-term future for England, but also when it comes to the current squad, on the field and Be cooperative with the outside strategy.

“I don’t go, ‘Oh I’d love to be England captain’, but at the same time I believe I have a good cricket mind. I think a lot about cricket and I think I can play the game in a way. I see. Where I don’t just think about my batting. Whether it’s for Surrey or whatever, if the opportunity comes, I’m definitely keen to do it.

“I mean, obviously, we’ve got the best captain in the world at the moment. Everyone loves playing under Stokes but if that happens in the near future, it would be amazing. Something I would love but also “I realize I have to score my runs. I don’t want to look too far ahead of that. I want to focus on No. 3. It’s also something that takes your mind off the batting.” , so I enjoy thinking about a game like that. With Stokey, there are a lot of guys who bounce ideas around while he’s also captaining.”

Pope is quick to point out that he is not vice-captain, officially or otherwise. Stokes is coy on the subject of his second-in-command, although Stuart Broad – not on the tour after the birth of his first child – was thought to be up for the role in the summer.

“No, I’m sure there will come a time if they ever want to announce one, they will, but there’s nothing like that,” Pope says. “I think everyone has as much to say at this point and, if there’s a conversation to be had and you want to give your thoughts, great, but there’s no tag on it. Something to say, usually something. But, at the moment, it’s pretty much a level playing field on that front.”

Shedding the “wunderkind” tag is still a task for the pope. In addition to adopting a “big” position in the first drop, raw numbers still need to be developed. His career average is 31, and he has just two centuries to his name, the other centuries being his first in home conditions this summer. However, he feels a little more mature, and a little more confident, thanks to England’s close-knit environment that encourages individual development.

“I felt it a little bit over the summer,” he says of being considered a senior member of the group. “It’s a huge role in Test cricket to play at three for England and it’s an important role for the team. As soon as I was given that role, I saw myself as a bit more of a leader than when I was there. I was batting on six runs, which I really enjoyed.

“It’s not anything that’s necessarily changed. I think that’s the feeling of everybody on the team right now. We’re feeling like it’s our team in a way, rather than the guys. They seem to be playing for their place. It’s us, it’s our team, we can own it, we can dictate how we want to play’ and I think everybody probably understands that. is also feeling an aspect of , which is great for the entire team and the management as well.

Pope’s record last summer was solid: 456 runs at 38, with four fifty-plus scores. Perhaps most encouraging was the manner in which he overcame a poor start with 7 and 10 in the first Test against New Zealand – scoring 145 in the next innings against the same opponents at Trent Bridge. His credentials were questioned at No. 3 but he approached the issue in a more positive light than usual, apparently deciding on a desire to worry less about low scores and overexpression. With distance, now, he contemplates the weather with greater clarity.

“I was very happy with how the summer went, [but] It’s not necessarily the numbers,’ he says. “My average is 38. It’s not amazing but at the same time I was happy with my contribution and the difficult wickets, the bowler was finding different ways to interact with friendly conditions, which I was happy with.

“Instead of scoring runs when everyone else is scoring runs, score runs when you can stand up and lead the innings,” he adds. “It might not be 100, but even if it’s 70 or 80 or 60, that’s probably the happiest I’ve been in the summer. Hopefully the centuries will come on better wickets, where I’ll probably play a few more games. Can. Conventionally, but I’m happy with how I went this summer and learned some good lessons.

“I learned that you don’t have to hit a million balls a day in practice, and you don’t have to train hard to be successful. It’s about being energetic and confident on the day. is about and about trying to enjoy the week. A bit more than thinking ‘oh I need a score’. But there’s always room for improvement. If you turn those 5s into 30s and those 70s into 100s. Granted, that’s how you’re having a great summer. Have a great summer.”

Maturity will come into play in the next month. Not only because of the challenges that Pakistan presents on the field, but also because of the level of security in place with the return to everyday life. The Pope was open about the challenges of similar restrictions during the summer of 2020, with biosecure bubbles during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and how the lack of escape means “you have to be aware of your failures.” Think a little more than usual.”

“I was quite new to international cricket then and my mood was quite dependent on how many runs I scored that day, rather than being relaxed.” “Not just looking at the screen and playing. Call of Duty But finding other ways to take your mind off cricket and enjoy each other’s company more.”

Spending more time together as a group, looking out for each other and focusing on three back-to-back tests will alleviate some of that stress. The Pope is, by all accounts, wiser and more comfortable about what’s to come.

“The boys are buzzing for it and I can’t wait to see the crowd there,” he says. “Even with the security levels, it’s going to be, fingers crossed, a smooth operation. It’s going to be great to be a part of and it’s going to be great to experience as a player, a visit there in a long time. It’s the first English Test team to do it. So we’re buzzing for it but it’s going to provide its challenges and maybe we won’t be allowed to go out of our hotel too much. So it’s just the little things like that. Doing things.

“The fact that we’ve spent a little bit of time in Abu Dhabi, we’ve been able to get out on the golf course and train a lot and we’ve had a good warm-up game, and once we’re out there, we I’m fairly straightforward. It won’t take long anyway.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo.

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