Ollie Pope says he has learned to live with the criticism that comes with being a Test cricketer, but admits he is under pressure to contribute more with the bat if he wants to keep his place in the England side.
Pope is part of the England squad for the five-Test series against India this month, with the first Test at Trent Bridge starting on Wednesday, live on Sky Sports.
But the 23-year-old batsman is not guaranteed a place in the XI due to a combination of injuries and form, and will be competing with the likes of Zak Crawley and Dan Lawrence for the attentions of captain Joe Root.
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Pope has not scored a half-century in 15 innings for England – a run dating back to the victory over Pakistan at Old Trafford in August – although he says he was pleased with his form in the two-Test series against New Zealand in June, when his highest score was 23.
England vs India
August 4, 2021, 10:00am
When asked if was under pressure to keep his place, Pope said: “Absolutely. You always want to get the big scores.
“Obviously a two-match series comes and goes pretty quickly. It was frustrating not to kick on and make a bigger score.
“But I felt really good in the middle and sometimes that’s just how cricket goes – you can feel really good and be playing really well and then suddenly you’re out.
“So hopefully I can get myself in, kick on and get a big one. But there’s always pressure on you to perform and score the big runs.
“I always try to approach each match in the same way and try to give myself the best possible chance of making a big 100.”
Pope’s failure to put big scores on the board for England in recent times led to questions over his technique, but the Surrey batsman insists he takes any criticism with a pinch of salt.
“I think you have to get used to it,” he said. “When I was first playing, people were saying I should stand a little bit further across.
“But if you stand a little bit further across and then get hit on the pad once, suddenly you’re standing too far across.
“You’ve got to be pretty stubborn in this environment – everyone’s going to have an opinion and you are going to get out.
“You’ve got to work out what’s best for you against these specific bowlers in these conditions.”
Pope’s involvement in the first Test next week is still unclear as he continues to recover from a thigh injury, with a decision likely to be made “over the next day or two” despite his insistence it is “nothing major”.
However, England will certainly be without talisman Ben Stokes, who announced his decision to withdraw from the squad to focus on his mental health, as well as healing the finger injury he suffered in the Indian Premier League.
His England team-mate Jack Leach said the whole squad backed the all-rounder’s decision, while Pope believes it shows the mental strain placed on cricketers at the elite level.
“Obviously it’s sad but it’s a reminder to everyone,” Pope said. “We look at Stokesy as the real sort of macho fighter, real character that he is, so it shows how mentally straining sports at the highest level can be.
“I guess the Covid situation – being in a bubble, away from family – does make that tougher.
“We all support him 100 per cent and hope to get him back when we can, but I think mental health is much more important than the game.”
Pope – who says the England squad will discuss how strict Covid protocols for the upcoming series against India will be in a meeting on Sunday – also admitted to his own struggles with life in a Covid-secure bubble during the tour of India earlier this year.
“It was tough,” he conceded. “I think we’re finding ways of dealing with it better.
“In India it was incredibly strict and I probably spent too much time in my bedroom, just watching Netflix and playing Xbox.
“We’re finding ways of trying to make the whole experience more enjoyable, and that will hopefully help us on the pitch as well.”
The Tests against India will be followed by the Ashes in Australia this winter, and Pope is already dreaming of playing a part in what he hopes will be two memorable series wins.
“I’m sure it’ll be a great challenge and the boys are really up for it,” he said. “You want to beat the best and compete against the best in the toughest conditions.
“If we can come away with two victories against two amazing sides… it’s what you dream of as a kid.”
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