The sight of Ollie Pope, all frenetic and scrambled, jumping around the crease before being bowled round his legs by Pat Cummins in the final Test in Hobart, epitomised England’s last Ashes disaster. Here was their ‘next great batsman’ broken and, like his team, in pieces.
Fast forward a year and not only is Pope fully repaired as a gifted stroke-maker, he is favourite to be England’s next Test captain after standing in for Ben Stokes against the Lions in Dubai.
Nobody provides a better example of the transformative powers over the last 12 months of Stokes and Brendon McCullum. And nobody is better qualified to talk about England’s journey since those dark days in Australia.
‘It’s been amazing and very special to be part of,’ Pope tells Sportsmail ahead of the Test series in New Zealand. ‘Stokesey had a vision even before Baz came in and together they have worked perfectly in making it happen.
‘Ben knew the talent we had but that some of us weren’t fulfilling it and he created a mindset to allow us to play more freely but in a controlled manner. It’s been a real eye-opener as to how much having that clarity can affect a team. Our changing room is a special place at the moment.’
Ollie Pope has fallen back in love with batting for England after a transformative 12 months
The England dressing room was not a special place this time last year. The sight of Pope first playing recklessly outside off-stump to be dismissed in that final Ashes Test before his ugly leg-side demise was indicative of all that had gone wrong.
‘I wasn’t in a great place to play in that last Test,’ Pope admits. ‘I got dropped after the first two Ashes games and wrongly started trying to work on things mid-series. I was pretty scrambled.’
His career was in the balance but Pope began picking up the pieces before the advent of Bazball. He said: ‘After the Ashes I sat down with Vik Solanki on one of his last days as Surrey coach and we spoke about how I wanted to bat and having a clear mindset.
‘Then Vik left for the IPL and I worked with Marcus Trescothick during the West Indies tour. I’d been told I probably wouldn’t play in the three Tests but taking me was a show of confidence and allowed me to work on my batting with Tres. Come the first day of the County Championship I felt I was where I wanted to be.’
The work centred on recapturing the technique and stroke-play that earned him Test recognition aged 20 against India in 2018.
Pope’s wicket at the hands of Pat Cummins epitomised England’s last Ashes disaster
The sight of Pope first playing recklessly outside off-stump to be dismissed in that final Ashes Test before his ugly leg-side demise was indicative of all that had gone wrong
‘I had a spell taking an off-stump guard and I only got out lbw once and did well batting that way for Surrey so it wasn’t a total failure,’ says Pope. ‘But after chatting with Vik I decided I would go back to standing on middle and rely on knowing where my off-stump was. I didn’t want to vary it from bowler to bowler.’
There was trepidation ahead of selection for the first series under the new regime against New Zealand, especially as Pope was not sure if a call he made to Stokes had been well received.
‘I’d seen an article saying Joe Root would be back at four,’ explains Pope. ‘I thought, “Jonny Bairstow will be 100 per cent batting at five” and then you had Stokes and Ben Foakes.
‘The only spot left was at three and for the first time in my career I felt I could perform there. So I called Ben and said, “What do you reckon about me asking Surrey if I can bat at three to show I can be an option?” And he just said, “Don’t worry about it”.
Now Pope is playing with freedom under the tutelage of Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum
‘I was a bit flat after that but it turned out he was just happy for me to score runs and not worry where I was batting. Ben’s point was, the ball is a red thing coming down at you and if you’re good enough you can bat anywhere.’
Faith was put in Pope at No 3 — and it was unshaken when he failed twice in that first Test at Lord’s. ‘I left that Test feeling good,’ says Pope. ‘It was just such a fun week. I knew I’d have a run in the team and that allows you to put low scores behind you.
‘I made a hundred the week after at Trent Bridge and that is the perfect example of what has changed. You know you have the role for an amount of time. That really helped me crack on there.’
Pope has made two centuries and five 50s since the start of the revolution, as well as 10 catches and a stumping in two Tests as keeper in the 3-0 win in Pakistan.
‘Everything started to click for all of us in that second Test against New Zealand at Trent Bridge,’ says Pope. ‘Rooty was coming out and reverse scooping balls for four and we were all like, “Wow, we’re allowed to do that!”
‘But it was that Jonny Bairstow century on the last day that really got us started. And we did that all last summer and in Pakistan. The fact we were prepared to give Pakistan a good sniff of winning in the first Test by declaring when we did on the fourth day sums up what we are about. That was the biggest step forward for us.’
Pope has made two centuries and five 50s since the start of the revolution under McCullum
Pope talks like the senior player he has, at 25, become. His status was reflected when McCullum walked up to him at England’s Dubai hotel before the Pakistan tour as they prepared for a warm-up against the Lions and said: ‘You’re in charge this week.’ It is enough to suggest Pope should now be considered a future England captain.
‘It would be a massive honour,’ he says. ‘But Stokesey is doing an amazing job and as a captain there’s so much you can learn from him. I need to take note. But captaincy will never happen if I don’t keep scoring runs!’
Closer in view is the big one — a home Ashes. ‘I can’t wait,’ adds Pope. ‘We have won some amazing series and done special things but everyone knows as an English cricketer you want to get the urn. If selected, I can’t wait to get stuck into it.’