Ollie Pope interview: ‘England will Bazball as hard as ever in India’

Pope speaks exclusively to Telegraph Sport about why there is no guarantee he makes England’s XI in India and targeting the 2027 World Cup

Ollie Pope - ‘England will Bazball as hard as ever in India’
Ollie Pope has played 38 Tests for England but is yet to play a white-ball match Credit: Reuters/Akhtar Soomro

A winter of two halves awaits Ollie Pope, who is now ready to return to action following a third serious shoulder injury in four years.

Pope is in Antigua, hoping to make his one-day international debut as part of a rebooted England white-ball setup. But, after Christmas, he will rejoin the Test squad in which he has been vice-captain under Ben Stokes for a five-match series in India that will be the longest and most daunting tour of the Bazball era so far.

On a recent camp with England Lions in Abu Dhabi, Pope had his mind on both series, working on the tricks and tactics he will need if selected for a white-ball debut, but also the pitches he might face in India.

Memories of England’s tour of India in 2021 remain raw among players. Inspired by Joe Root, they pulled off a famous win in Chennai, only for the pitches to become spicier. Bamboozled by Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel, a shell-shocked England departed off the back of three consecutive, and rather chastening, defeats.

The painful experience inspired Pope’s recent preparation. In Abu Dhabi, he had a net royally roughed up and then faced over after over of spin. A true Bazball disciple, the 25-year-old believes that attack will be the best form of defence to avoid a repeat of the frequent sitting-duck impersonations of 2021.

“That India trip was tough,” Pope tells Telegraph Sport. “We went 1-0 up on a good wicket and then the pitches changed, the ball started turning square. That was new to a lot of people. In the past, the guys had played on wickets that were good for two days, then started spinning, rather than going from ball one.

“We have a very similar squad to in India back then. We know exactly how we want to go about things. As a batting group, if the ball is turning past the outside edge, what are our scoring options? Being out here, that is what we have practised [in Abu Dhabi]. You need a solid defence, but also to look to score all the time.

“That is exactly how we are going to see things [taking the aggressive option]. It’s about managing your expectations. You want to score a hundred every game, and you’ve failed if you don’t. But in India, it might be that case that a run-a-ball 60 is match-winning, 200 might be a good score on some pitches.

“There’s threat to both edges as a right-hander. Ashwin is probably the best spinner in the world, but [Ravindra] Jadeja and Axar are spinning the ball away from the bat sharply. It’s knowing how you want to score; taking on the bowler and putting them under pressure.

Pope's (right) dismissal in 2021 by Ashwin highlighted the spinner's mastery of drift and flight Credit: Getty Images/Peter Cziborra

“It’s a tough place to go and win, but we will give it as much of a crack as we can playing our way.”

Despite being vice-captain, there is no guarantee that Pope makes England’s XI in India. He has not played since the second Ashes Test at Lord’s, where he dislocated his shoulder. With Stokes unable to bowl, he was replaced in a rebalanced team by the now-retired Moeen Ali. Having just gone under the knife, the prospect of Stokes bowling seems unlikely, meaning a batsman may have to give way to ensure they have the bowling options to take 20 wickets.

But Pope’s record under the current regime suggests he will not be the fall guy. Since moving to No 3 under Stokes, his average is 45.3 compared to 28.7 before that. The Surrey man puts it down to security in the side.

Pope has not played since injuring his shoulder in the second Ashes Test in June Credit: Reuters/Peter Cziborra

“Firstly as a player I have improved in the last couple of years,” he says. “That is partly due to Stokes and [Brendon] McCullum, and the environment they’ve created. You feel settled in the team, rather than like if you have a bad game you are going to be dropped. Psychologically that has helped.

“But although you try not to think about it, you are always fighting for your place in Test cricket. What happened in the Ashes after I got injured was great. I will try to improve my game and get as ready as I can, then selection is out of my control.”

‘Although I could be making my debut, I feel experienced’

The same is true of the Caribbean tour, where Pope is one of the new faces in the white-ball squad. He has told captain Jos Buttler and coach Matthew Mott that he feels capable of batting anywhere in the top seven. Although Pope’s experience of white-ball cricket in recent years is limited, he initially made an impression with Surrey in the shorter forms at the start of his career.

“I feel I can be fairly adaptive in that team, I feel I could bat anywhere from the top to six or seven,” he says. “Although I could be making my debut, I do feel like an experienced international cricketer. There’s guys [on tour] who are very new to it all, and I know the noise about it.

“The new format means I need to sharpen up quickly tactically. White-ball cricket can sometimes look like you are just playing your shots but it’s very tactical so I have been thinking about that while watching the World Cup. I’m new to it, I want to pick the brains of some of the guys. Batting-wise, it’s pretty similar to the way we play in the Test side.”

‘Playing in a World Cup is as good as it gets’

Pope hopes to use the tour as a first step towards the 2027 World Cup.

“For any cricketer, playing in a World Cup is as good as it gets, a huge ambition,” he says. “In Test cricket, the format is the pinnacle, and we have the World Test Championship, but it doesn’t feel the same. It’s hard to say this but watching the Aussies the other day, you want to experience that, it would be a career highlight. 

“Four years is a long time away, but this is an opportunity to start putting my case forward and showing what I can do. There is a lot of competition both from experienced guys and some newer faces, but anything I can do to put my name forward on this tour would be a nice start.”

For now, Pope is just happy to be back.

“I even missed the preparation for games, the pressure of the morning of a big game,” he says. “I chatted to Jack Leach, who has also been injured. While you are in the mix of it, you don’t realise that you’d much rather be having a bad day playing than be injured and have no influence on anything. Recovery can feel a bit like a nine-five, which cricket doesn’t normally. You spend the week doing rehab and get to the weekend and are excited for a day off. I am a cricket badger, I love playing, and can’t wait to be back.”