Are England Right To Place Their Hope In Pope?
The ever-revolving door that is England’s batting line-up has seen Surrey’s Ollie Pope called into the squad for the Second Test against India at Lords. Dawid Malan is the player to miss out after failing to kick on from a strong Ashes series over the winter.
There has been a lot of hype surrounding the 20-year-old middle-order batsman this season but is it warranted?
A casual glance at his statistics suggests yes. This season he averages a staggering 85.50, a number that dwarfs that of his teammate Rory Burns and established International players Hashim Amla, Matt Renshaw, and Cheteshwar Pujara. On top of this, his tally of 684 runs from eight County Championship matches is the second most in the first division, only bettered by Burns. Add in three centuries and he’s clearly a batsman with form.
With domestic runs behind him, the wicketkeeper-batsman appears to be the obvious selection but with the likes of James Vince, Tom Westley and now Malan, all coming from County Cricket and all returning to their club sides, just how much are County runs actually worth?
A precedent has been set by National Selector, Ed Smith. Earlier in the summer, Jos Buttler was recalled after his sensational form at the Indian Premier League and the call-up for Adil Rashid, on the back of ODI performances, ahead of the India series caused debate across the shires. The failure of those who have come before should not be held against Pope. County Cricket has seen an influx of International talent. This year alone Pope has faced Kyle Abbott, Dale Steyn, Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan who have 951 Test Wickets between them. As much as he could it was a test that Pope passed with flying colours, according to CricViz’s statistics he averaged 98 against these bowlers scoring at a rate of 4.60 runs per over.
On top of that, he has already shown his talent with the England Lions side. In the unofficial Test against India A he scored 50* in the second innings.
So, why was it Pope called into the squad and not his clubmate Burns? Or Middlesex’s Nick Gubbins? It could simply be down to those two players being seen as opening batsmen but more likely is the tormenting of England’s left-handers by Ravichandran Ashwin. The off-spinner took seven wickets in the first Test Match, of which five were left-handed batsmen. Bringing in Pope would aid to negate this obvious threat with a middle-order of Joe Root, Pope, Buttler, and Jonny Bairstow. It is worth noting that Ashwin has an average of above 30 runs per wicket against right-handers compared to less than 20 against their left-handed counterparts.
It remains to be seen whether or not Pope will make his debut at Lord’s in the Second Test but he is clearly a player that England management has highlighted as one with a bright future. Just a year ago he had played barely a handful of games for Surrey but he has so far demonstrated an ability to adapt quickly with each step up in quality.
Maybe this time England’s revolving door will stop spinning.
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