Ollie Pope prioritizes his No. 3 position over the title of “future England skipper”

In the series against Pakistan, Ollie Pope was in excellent form

Ollie Pope exclaimed, “Cheers Broady!” with an ear-to-ear smile and slightly blushed cheeks.

Pope learns about Stuart Broad’s statements just before he sits down for Friday’s media appearance at the team hotel. Stuart Broad had claimed that chair five minutes earlier.

“I think Pope is a great leader in the group, actually,”

Broad said after Pope led an England warm-up match for the second time in three months, this time stepping in for Ben Stokes against a New Zealand XI in Hamilton. 

Pope had previously led an England warm-up match against the England Lions in Abu Dhabi before the Pakistan series.

“He’s grown so much in the last year, the way he operates, the confidence and responsibility he’s been given. He speaks really well in the group, he’s got a great cricket mind. There’s no doubt you can see him as a future England captain.

“He’s been probably the most impressive growing cricketer in the group that I’ve seen over the last year. From where his confidence was to where he is now. How Popey has grown as a character is very impressive.”

Given that Broad has played under six different Test captains over the course of his 16 years and 159 caps at this level, there aren’t many better ways to determine what makes a good captain. 

The 36-year-old was secretly appointed vice-captain duties last summer, and when Stokes was sick against New Zealand at Headingley, he nearly took the primary role. His praise of the Pope as a future leader carries a lot of weight.

Ollie Pope appreciates the comment but is not in a hurry to get there. He also does not entirely see himself as an FEC (Future England Captain). 

His only past experience into professional cricket captaincy occurred in September 2021 when he filled in for Rory Burns during Surrey’s County Championship game against Glamorgan. Beyond that, Cranleigh School and Surrey under-17s played in games.

“I don’t necessarily see that. I’m going to keep developing my cricket brain,”

Pope said.

“If that opportunity comes up in the future I’ll make sure I can learn as much as possible before then.

“But at the same time, I realize I’ve got a big job at number three to keep doing. If I can keep impressing there, who knows what the future holds. But I’ll keep learning and developing as an all-round cricketer as much as I can. If that happens (becoming England captain), great. If not, that’s okay.”

Without a doubt, Pope’s new house at number three contributes to the 25-year-overall old’s sense of maturity. Even the role’s takeover hinted at a young person’s desire to advance quickly: bringing up Stokes soon after the all-arounder was named Test captain and practically demanding the only opening in the batting order.

This stage of his career has been somewhat overdue for a batter who had the appearance of stopped development at the highest level in his first 23 outings, starting with a wide-eyed debut at Lord’s in 2018 against India at the age of 20. 

Pope acknowledges it, in part because he is aware of how supportive the atmosphere has been in helping him grow from a junior member of the changing room following those early growing pains.

“I think that tough (period) however long it was – and it felt like a long time – allowed me to get to where I am now. We’ve got this great mindset as a team at the minute and as a batting unit we’re not fearing getting out and I think we spent too long worrying about our techniques and worrying about how the bowler is going to get us out rather than work and score runs.

“That’s probably showing in the way we are playing at the minute with our strike rates and things like that. But it’s also allowing us to feel like it is our team and stop spending time dwelling on too many negatives. That’s come down from the top: Stokesy and Baz have been top drawer in terms of simplifying Test cricket for us all.”

Ollie Pope acknowledges having stronger emotional reserves as well. He was the first cricketer to speak out about the “tough and challenging” bio-secure bubbles back in the pandemic summer of 2020. It was a welcome admission, especially given the fact that many of his teammates shared his sentiments but had not yet expressed them fully.

“I’m not that experienced now – I’m only 25 – but I’ll be able to deal with that a lot better now. I guess Pakistan was a similar environment in terms of you’re not really allowed to get out of the hotel. But the way we deal with it as a team now is a lot better.”

“We ended up playing X-box and playing cricket and then spending too much time doing those two things, probably, for that whole summer. It was so hard to switch off and I let my cricket performance affect the mood I’m in as a person, which is a pretty bad way to be, I think, especially at this level when there’s so much pressure on.”

“I can see cricket from a bit more perspective. It’s still my priority, I’m not one of those players who’ve had kids and seen a new side of things. It’s more that I’ve allowed the pressure to be taken off a little bit and trust you can bounce back after some low performances.” 

If I was to go back into that Covid bubble then I’d deal with it a lot better than I necessarily have done or did do in the past.”

How New Zealand approaches these two Test matches, which begin at Mount Maunganui on Thursday, will be the most media phenomena of the upcoming two weeks. At the start of the previous English summer, they were the first to feel the sting of the new age and were emphatically whitewashed. 

Ollie Pope anticipates a response like everyone else. Even the rapid scoring might be repeated, especially with Tim Southee showing some McCullum-like traits in the early stages of his Test leadership.

“I’m interested to see that: see if they adjust, how they play, slightly. But obviously at the same time that series in the summer we won three-nil but in each of those Test matches there were points that could have gone either way so they’ll probably see it from that perspective and they’ll stick to what they do well and probably trust what they do in their own conditions.

“It’s exciting, we’ve sort of seen glimpses of the way we play going to other teams at points and so it’ll be interesting to see if anything that we’ve done has rubbed off on them.”