POPE TAK­ING ROOT ONE TO SECURE ASHES SPOT

Sunday Express - - SPORT - LION KINGS IN ABU DHABI By Richard Ed­wards

WHEN Eng­land’s bats­men were floun­der­ing in Aus­tralia last win­ter, they were ac­cused of drown­ing in an over­load of ad­vice from a bloated coach­ing staff. Af­ter find­ing their feet against Sri Lanka and In­dia, though, Joe Root’s side seem to be work­ing things out for them­selves.

Where mud­dled minds once gifted wick­ets, Eng­land’s free-think­ing top or­der ap­pear to be find­ing an­swers at ev­ery turn in a run that has seen them win seven of their past eight Test matches.

A con­tin­u­a­tion of that run in the West In­dies in the New Year would see Root’s men go into next sum­mer’s Ashes as big favourites, de­spite their thrash­ing at Aussie hands less than 12 months ago.

One bats­man who ap­pears to be ben­e­fit­ting from this ap­proach is Ol­lie Pope, who be­came one of Eng­land’s youngest Test debu­tants when he was handed his first cap against In­dia at Lord’s back in Au­gust.

He then got the nod for Eng­land’s

ENG­LAND LI­ONS beat Pak­istan A by four wick­ets in their sec­ond Twenty20 clash in Abu Dhabi. Eng­land’s bowlers again re­stricted Pak­istan to a be­low-par only total, the home side manag­ing 139-9 from their 20 overs. Jamie Over­ton and Liam Liv­ing­stone were the pick of the bowlers, with three wick­ets each. Liv­ing­stone also top-scored with the bat, hit­ting 35 off 19 balls to guide

Eng­land over the line as they won the se­ries 2-0. tour of Sri Lanka be­fore leav­ing early to join the Li­ons in the UAE.

It has been a light­ning pro­gres­sion for a player who still has just 33 First Class in­nings un­der his belt.

But the char­ac­ter he has so far shown sug­gests he’s the per­fect fit for an Eng­land side be­ing moulded in the char­ac­ter of their cap­tain. “Root is quite big on that as a bats­man, al­most just coach­ing him­self,” says Pope. “He watches things back and works out the method for each spe­cific bowler, and just ad­justs small things in his tech­nique on his own.

“I en­joyed do­ing that in Aus­tralia (where Pope played Grade Cricket last win­ter) and I think it’s what made me a bet­ter player.

“I think ev­ery­one went about their busi­ness in Sri Lanka. They did it in a way that suited them.

“You saw that with (Ben) Foakes. When he scored his hun­dred he barely hit a ball over the top.

“But you saw other play­ers, like Sam (Cur­ran), whack­ing sixes over the top for fun.

“I think ev­ery­one was just work­ing out their best way of scor­ing runs in those spe­cific con­di­tions.”

All of which bodes well for an Ashes sum­mer that is un­likely to over­awe the likes of Pope and Cur­ran, two crick­eters yet to cel­e­brate their 21st birth­day.

The pres­ence of fear­less play­ers like Jos But­tler, Ben Stokes and

Jonny Bairstow can only help in their devel­op­ment.

Pope says: “In in­ter­na­tional cricket there is al­ways pres­sure. You’re rep­re­sent­ing your coun­try and there are a lot of peo­ple watch­ing.

“But the dress­ing room en­vi­ron­ment helps ev­ery­one, whether it’s the old­est, most ex­pe­ri­enced player or the youngest player.

“The en­vi­ron­ment they set is very help­ful in not down­siz­ing the im­por­tance of it but just cre­at­ing a re­laxed at­mos­phere. That just en­ables you to go out and per­form as well as you can.

“I don’t think any­one will be over­awed by the oc­ca­sion.”

Any pres­sure is sim­ply bring­ing the ab­so­lute best out of Eng­land’s play­ers at the mo­ment, with Bairstow’s cen­tury in Colombo show­ing how com­pe­ti­tion for places is tak­ing ev­ery­one’s game to the next level.

In an Eng­land side packed with op­tions, Pope will have to score heav­ily when handed the chance, whether that’s in the West In­dies or early in the county sea­son with Sur­rey.

Af­ter a run-laden 2018, he will hope that the next 12 months are sim­i­larly fruit­ful.

AD­VICE: Ol­lie Pope and, left, cap­tain Joe Root

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