Ollie Pope has made a small but important tweak by moving from off stump to middle stump – we can see the benefits after his classy 81 put England in an excellent position
- Pope scored the most of any player on either side on the second day on Friday
- His fluent innings anchored the hosts and helped give them a 99-run lead
- Now he needs to start batting up the order for Surrey – he will for England too
During the recent Test at Headingley, I watched Ollie Pope batting in the nets, and I was pleased to see that he was standing on middle stump rather than off stump. On Friday at The Oval, we saw the benefits of that small but significant tweak.
Pope was quite bullish earlier in the season about sticking to his off-stump method, and I understand why a lot of batters this summer have adopted the method.
By all accounts, and even from the county championship matches I’ve seen myself, there is so much movement off the seam and through the air that they’ve been trying to protect themselves on the outside edge.
Ollie Pope has made a small but significant tweak to his batting – and we can see the benefits
The England batsman made a fluent 81 but chopped on to his stumps from Shardul Thakur; however, he anchored the England innings and helped the hosts post a 99-run lead at the Oval
The trouble is that can create a problem on the inside edge, which is why Pope has been getting out lbw to the one that comes back.
Alastair Cook has a theory that the excellent drainage most venues now have means the groundsmen are keeping more grass on the pitch at the start, to make sure the surface doesn’t dry out too quickly and break up too soon.
The result is that the ball has been doing more, and county players have decided to counter it by moving across to off stump.
But watching Pope in one of Surrey’s early games and during the two-Test series against New Zealand in June, I was struck by how much less free-flowing a player he was than when he first came on the scene.
By moving across to off stump, he had basically limited his options of scoring on the off side, and his cut shot – once so profitable – had almost disappeared altogether, because it would have to be a very wide ball to be cut for four when you’re standing on off.
Think back to that successful winter he had in 2019-20 in New Zealand and South Africa, and all the comparisons were with Ian Bell.
He received a fine reception from the crowd at his home ground after taking the fight to India
But the New Zealanders worked out what he was doing a couple of months back, and realised that he if he missed anything straight, he was on his way.
That’s why he was leg-before at Lord’s to Tim Southee, and at Edgbaston to Neil Wagner. Good bowlers spot these things quickly, and they pounce. It’s why Test cricket is such a difficult game.
I wonder if Pope watched how Joe Root batted in the first three Tests against India, and decided that if it was good enough for England’s captain and best player, it was good enough for him.
We’ve all heard a lot about how hard it has been for the players to cope with life in the bubble, and Pope himself spoke last summer about the stress of waking up in a room overlooking the ground where you made a duck the day before.
But bubble life has also allowed the likes of Pope to tinker with his game. Jonny Bairstow also benefited, though in his case he moved slightly more to the off side because he was getting bowled so often. But, in Pope’s case, it looks as if a minor adjustment has done him the world of good.
It was also noticeable earlier this summer how the New Zealand captain Kane Williamson took a similar decision. He’d been batting on off stump against England in the first Test at Lord’s, and made 13 and one.
And Nasser Hussain thinks he should start batting higher up the order for his county side too
He missed the Edgbaston Test through injury, but then moved to a middle-stump guard for the World Test Championship final against India, and made 49 and 52 not out in a low-scoring game in seaming conditions.
I know that some of the players got irritated with us old fogeys in the commentary box earlier in the summer when we suggested that batsmen don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
And that’s why I’m so pleased to see Pope batting again with some of the fluency he was showing 18 months ago. Yes, he was a touch frenetic early on, and there were a couple of fiddles outside off stump.
And it will also take time for him to rediscover every aspect of his off-side game. But he was scoring more freely all round the wicket than he managed earlier in the summer.
The next step for Pope is to get him up the order at Surrey, because there will come a moment when England need to move up from No 5.
That moment isn’t here yet, but it’s strange that he has never batted above No 4 for his county. He’s too good a player for that – especially now that he looks comfortable at the crease again.
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