Ollie Pope feared being dropped before high-class hundred for England


Ollie Pope backed up England’s belief in him with a high-class hundred in the second LV= Insurance Test against New Zealand, but admitted he was fearing the worst when he took a call last month from new coach Brendon McCullum.

Pope was elated to put two years of indifferent form behind him, making 145 as England piled on 383 runs on day three at Trent Bridge.

With Joe Root also unfurling 163 not out, his 27th ton and second in a row since relinquishing the captaincy, all three results remain on the table with the hosts 80 behind on 473 for five.

Whatever the final outcome, the impact this game could have on Pope may well be profound.

He has long been seen as the brightest English talent of his generation but has too often struggled to replicate his dominant county performances on the biggest stage. Such were his recent struggles, he was braced for bad news when McCullum first made contact.

Instead, he received an unexpected promotion to number three.

Brendon McCullum called Pope to say he was being promoted up the order (PA)

“I was down in Cornwall having a few days away on the coast when I got a call from a number I didn’t recognise. It was Baz (McCullum) on the phone,” he said.

“I wasn’t expecting amazing news at the time, but he said ‘you’re going to be in the squad’. I remember having a little celebration with my dog ​​– I think I gave her a first bump – and then he said ‘you’re going to bat three as well’.

It was a decision that drew raised eyebrows given Pope’s lack of top-order experience at county level and his previous inability to post consistent scores further down. A double failure at Lord’s in his first attempt last week only raised the stakes but he delivered on the hunch to play a major role in Sunday’s fightback.

McCullum and captain Ben Stokes have preached positive cricket since taking over the team, a message that has resonated with Pope.

“Once I got over the line I was buzzing. You have to take in those moments, which is something I’ve come to realise over the past couple of years,” he said.

“It’s not been the easiest ride over the last year or so, a few tough tours away and I didn’t play a massive amount last summer, but I’ve never doubted my game for Test cricket. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about my game and a lot about Test cricket and hopefully now I can take that forward and use this as a sort of starting point with that bank of knowledge that I’ve gained.

“Cooky (former captain Sir Alastair Cook) said to Stokesy in the dressing room last week that he tried to find enjoyment in every day he pulled on an England shirt and we’re really feeling that as a group at the moment.

“That’s allowed me to play my game and given me a bit more confidence. I’ve started seeing everything in a bit more of a positive light because that’s what I do for Surrey and it’s what has brought me a lot of success. It’s something I’ve really enjoyed so far.”

Pope’s joyous reaction to reaching three figures was matched only by Root at the other end, with the Yorkshireman sprinting to embrace his partner in a bear hug and later clapping him off the pitch.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been hugged like that, but it means so much when your team-mates are that excited – especially a guy like Joe Root – it’s a great attribute to have.”


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