England’s new Test vice-captain Ollie Pope has revealed how the backing he received from Ben Stokes last year helped rebuild his self-belief.
Pope had been in and out of the side before Stokes took over as skipper last summer and was an unused squad member in the West Indies in Joe Root’s final series in charge.
The Surrey batter has previously admitted he feared losing his place in the squad altogether but Stokes helped remove those insecurities by not only restoring him to the XI, but promoting him to the pivotal number three slot.
His output has improved significantly, averaging 38.52 in the last 12 Tests versus a modest 28.66 in the previous 23, with a career-best 145 against New Zealand at Trent Bridge and a dashing hundred in Pakistan showing the 25-year-old at his best.
Now he has been installed as Stokes’ official deputy at the start of an Ashes summer, having impressed senior members of the side with his confidence and tactical acumen. And he credits Stokes’ man-management with kicking off his reinvention.
Speaking at Walton Heath Golf Club, the venue for this year’s AIG Women’s Open, he told Dan Walker: “I think there was a time after the last Ashes where he thought I was better than I thought I was, to be honest.
“That’s probably why I got picked when they (Stokes and Brendon McCullum) came in. He backed me for a long time more than I backed myself, for sure. He’s brought that out of me so now I feel like I’m a good player and he feels like I am too.
“I mean he’s a superstar now, you travel the world with him and it doesn’t matter what country we’re in, he’s getting recognised everywhere he goes, but the best thing about him is he’d do anything for his team.”
Pope has particularly enjoyed the relaxed environment that Stokes and McCullum have championed.
Training is now focused on individual requirements rather than mandatory time slots, team bonding is considered just as important as data analysis and there is a palpable sense of fun when the squad gets together.
The contrast could hardly be more apparent compared to the last Ashes tour Down Under, when Covid-19 restrictions were in force and cast a long shadow over England’s 4-0 series defeat.
“That was obviously a tough trip. It was also a trip where we got put in a hotel room for basically 10 days before we were allowed out, things that aren’t amazing for your mental health,” he said.
“Playing for England should be the best time of your life as a player and at the time it probably wasn’t.
“It was too much pressure, too much stress. What the guys like Stokes, McCullum and Rob Key have done is they’ve just made a Test match week a fun week.
“We’ll go out and play golf the day before after training. We’ll then just talk about ‘how good is this? We get to play at Lord’s in front of a packed house’ and just be a bit more grateful for what we can do that week, rather than thinking ‘oh, if I miss that, this could be my last one’.”
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