As someone who survived England’s 3-1 loss to India three years ago, during the pandemic tour where they were outplayed, Ollie Pope may feel anxious about the upcoming match against Ravichandran Ashwin and his team.
Ultimately, most people anticipate a comparable selection of difficult tracks for the five-match series set to commence in Hyderabad on January 25th. A strong indication was given after India’s recent 1-1 tie in South Africa, with Rohit Sharma not objecting to the extreme seaming conditions his team encountered, as long as there is no discussion about the pitches in India.
However, after closely following the fast-paced series from his comfortable couch in London, Pope seems truly intrigued by the idea. He believes that a fast game is a great game and any complaints about the conditions from English players – like Sunil Gavaskar’s recent newspaper column – will not come from the team itself.
Pope mentioned that there will be a significant amount of external distractions while the England team is training at their Abu Dhabi camp this week. He also acknowledged the potential impact of the playing surface, but emphasized that both teams will be competing on the same wicket and the focus should be on being well-prepared.
“In England, it is common to leave more grass on the pitch to cater to our exceptional seam bowlers. It would not be surprising if India also does the same to accommodate their spin bowlers. Personally, I find low-scoring Test matches, where the ball has an advantage over the bat, to be quite captivating.”
“I had the opportunity to watch South Africa play against India, and it was an exciting match. The players were able to score difficult runs and the ball was moving quickly. We may see similar scores in India, but if the pitches are spin-friendly from the beginning, we won’t mind. It’s all about finding a strategy to overcome it.”
In their recent match in Chennai, England’s methods seemed to have diminished as they secured a 227-run victory on a flat pitch, thanks to Joe Root’s impressive score of 218. However, they faced three consecutive losses as the pitches became more unpredictable. In his eight innings, Ollie Pope only managed to pass 20 runs four times, with his highest score being 34. He views this experience as both humbling and enlightening.
Pope recalls that there were several inexperienced players on the tour, including himself, Zak Crawley, and Ben Foakes. As it was our first tour to India, we were caught off guard when the conditions changed after the first Test. However, if we had analyzed the pitch more effectively and reacted faster…
When observing the most successful players, such as Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant, I noticed that they did not frequently rotate strike. This can be challenging on certain pitches, as it is not as easy to maneuver spin as it is in England. A strong defensive strategy is necessary, as well as the ability to hit spinners off their length with both four and six options.
The previous danger ball went straight ahead, while the ones that spun had excessive spin. It’s similar to when a seaming ball in England passes by your outside edge, and you either play it well with a gentle touch or miss it completely. It’s important to accept being defeated in these situations, as it can still be seen as a victory if you’re covering for lbw or being bowled.
England has greatly embraced the use of four and six options in their Test cricket, resulting in a transformation from their previous disastrous tour. This change can be attributed to the mentality of self-fulfilling doom that seemed to take hold during that tour, exacerbated by Covid restrictions. However, under the leadership of Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum, there has been a concerted effort to adopt a more positive mindset.
Their combined hostility has yet to be fully examined in a series dominated by spin. However, in a match against Pakistan in Multan last winter, England managed to score 281 runs in just 51 overs, which ultimately led to a victory. This could serve as an example of their capabilities. As Pope states, scoring 60 runs in just as many balls could potentially lead to a win.
The right-hander is among those to prosper in the current environment. As well as finding a home at No 3, where he averages 45 and has seen his strike rate jump from 50 to 77, Pope has been elevated to vice-captain. The 26-year-old says he has mentally prepared himself to lead should Stokes suffer an injury, the plan to deliver the same messaging “but in my own way”.
After dislocating his shoulder during the second Test, Pope’s Ashes summer was cut short. This was his third dislocation and required surgery on his right side, similar to his previous injury on the left side. He is expected to return to the team, but Foakes may also be considered due to his expertise in keeping to spinners. As a result, one of the top seven players may have to step down.
The fact that Pope is skilled at playing short leg, a position that is not preferred by many players, works in his favor. Essex reportedly paid extra to fielders who played in that position in the late 1980s. Pope seems to genuinely enjoy playing there. When asked about the old bonus system at Chelmsford, he jokingly says, “I might suggest that one.” Playing short leg can be quite enjoyable and on pitches that favor spin, it can be just as crucial as being a wicketkeeper. Making the most of half-chances can often be the deciding factor between winning and losing.
I am not very talkative on the field, I prefer to make my presence known. The Indian team excels in this aspect. When we begin an innings, they have fielders close to the bat and create a lively atmosphere. That is what we aim to do: add pressure, make the new batter work harder, and potentially create an opportunity. Whether I am batting, fielding, or captaining, Pope appears eager for the next round of action.