England vice-captain Pope pays Ashes warning for Australia
New England vice-captain Ollie Pope has warned Australia they will come up against a very different player this summer.
Pope endured a torrid time during the last Ashes series and was dropped after two matches before being recalled for the dead-rubber in Hobart.
The Surrey batter only managed a top score of 35 in six innings and registered four single-figure scores in Australia, but he has flourished since Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum took over last year.
Pope scored 145 in the second Test of the ‘Bazball’ era and the 25-year-old has continued to go from strength to strength, hitting 205 against Ireland last week in his first official match since being made vice-captain.
Looking ahead to the opener against Australia at Edgbaston on June 16, Pope said: “I feel good and confident going into the Ashes.
“I’ve put a lot of hard work into my game. That was my first time in Australia, different kind of pitch, different wickets. That’s one change.
“But I feel like I’m a different player, mentally and technically, to deal with the challenge of an Ashes series as well.
“I’m not happy with the way I played in Australia last time, that’s pretty obvious, but I know how the bowlers are going to challenge me.
“What they’re like as bowlers, their paces, their angles and stuff, so that’s always a benefit having faced them once before.”
Pope’s promotion to number three last summer is one of many bold decisions made by Stokes and McCullum which have been handsomely vindicated over the past 12 months.
While he is determined to deliver with the bat over the next two months, there is a scenario which would see him captain the side during the Ashes.
Concerns remain over the fitness of Stokes, who has struggled with his left knee since the New Zealand series in February and, despite repeatedly allaying fears, the all-rounder has batted just twice and bowled only six competitive balls in the months building up to the Ashes.
“It’s a big honour firstly to be vice-captain of your country, especially in Test cricket,” Pope said.
“From what I was doing before, it doesn’t make a big difference. I’m going to give my opinion and challenge Stokesy when he needs challenging.
“We’re going to be tested in the Ashes along the way, so it’s not always about going on and agreeing with him. It’s about providing a different opinion to let ponder in his mind as well.
“Nothing’s really changed. He’s got a pretty clear vision and he’s got 15 guys in that changing room who know our roles now, so that’s helpful for everybody.
“Fingers crossed Stokesy’s body’s all good. It’s going to take a hell of a lot for him not to be on the pitch even for a day’s play, knowing what he’s like, but if it did happen, I feel confident.
“We’ve played a lot together as a team over the last year and a bit and he knows a lot how he wants the bowlers to operate, the kind of fields he sets and tries to get players to hit balls in areas that they don’t normally want to hit in.
“So, I’ve got a pretty good understanding of how he runs things now and if needs be can implement the same ideas.”