POPE TAKING ROOT ONE TO SECURE ASHES SPOT
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