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Ollie Pope: New Hope Or Just Another Dope?

So England have made two changes for the second test. I think there’s a case for both of them. In fact, the second one (Woakes for Stokes) most certainly involves a case … and even a resulting trial. I’ll get my coat. I really must stop making terrible contrived gags.

Before I address my somewhat provocative headline (!) I’ll quickly say that I think dropping Malan is 100% the right decision by Ed Smith. The previous regime might have given him another game under the old ‘we’d rather give a guy one game too many than one game too few’ mantra. I always thought that approach was a cop out. Surely it’s best to try and give a player exactly the right number of chances? And that’s exactly what Smith has done here.

Although Malan seems like a good egg, and I’ve enjoyed the honesty of his interviews in the past, I think he’s shot at this point. Smith is right when he says Dawid’s game is more suited to overseas conditions, not least because he doesn’t move his feet that well. The fact he dropped 2/3 catches at Edgbaston also proves that his confidence is really low. In the circumstances it’s probably best to put him out of his misery. Call it a cruel necessity.

The other good news, in my humble opinion, is that Chris Woakes is back, a week after he was deemed not fit or sharp enough to play. Again I feel this is the right call. I like the Warwickshire man as an all-round cricketer and feel he has plenty more to give. His bowling is effective in home conditions, and his batting is orthodox and underrated. He’s the best like-for-like replacement available.

Now we move onto Ollie Pope, the prodigy from Surrey. After all, this is the headline selection for sure …

I predicted a couple of days ago that Smith wouldn’t be able to resist selecting a prolific 20 year old with just 16 first class games under his belt because it would seem like the daring and progressive thing to do. And so it has proved. However, this obviously isn’t the only reason Pope has been picked! His pure talent and his superb form this year obviously have a lot to do with it too. In fact, Pope is one of the most exciting talents to emerge in a long time.

When I first heard the news confirming that Pope had been preferred to Joe Clarke, who I understood was the leading candidate, I was extremely disappointed and put out a tweet that was a little too emotional. I’ve since deleted this tweet as on reflection it seemed anti-Pope. Believe me this wasn’t my intention at all. My big fear beforehand was that Smith might pick Jason Roy or even Alex Hales i.e. another white ball specialist; therefore Pope’s inclusion comes as something of a relief.

Obviously I’m also delighted that championship form has been recognised by the selectors for once. The selections of Rashid and Buttler angered me because these guys hadn’t played much first class cricket recently so they seemed like a slap in the face for the championship. The same cannot be said for Pope, who would’ve been my second choice after Clarke. The little I’ve seen of Pope has been very impressive, and obviously he’s had glowing reports from just about every observer around.

Having said that I do have some concerns. Pope currently bats at No.6 for Surrey, yet it’s been reported that he will bat 4 for England. This obviously seems counterintuitive. If Pope is that good (one might argue) then why doesn’t he bat higher for Surrey? After all he’s batting below several players England have overlooked in the Surrey batting line-up.

I’ve seen it argued that Surrey have the luxury of fielding Pope down the order whereas England do not. Although I can see the argument, I don’t find this explanation particularly convincing. After all, surely Surrey like any other team want their best batsmen to bat for the longest period of time? It worries me that Alec Stewart obviously feels that guys like Scott Borthwick are (at this point) better suited to making large scores than England’s great new hope.

What’s more, it’s surely a concern that asking a county No.6 to bat No.4 in a test match is a huge ask. It’s a substantial step up in class and intensity and we have no idea how Pope will react. That’s why I would have preferred Clarke, who is a little older and has had far more exposure to the Lions system. Pope might have a very impressive first class average but the sample size (just 16 first class games) is relatively small. Plenty of players, including Ed Smith himself, have enjoyed purple patches in the past but then faded away. Nick Compton also springs to mind. And once upon a time Ben Duckett was flavour of the month. Basically, there must be a concern that this might be too much too soon for young Ollie.

Obviously one might say that we just need to trust the selectors on this one. They’ve seem Pope close up, know his character well, know his game, and they feel he’s the right man for the job. Basically this is the ‘in Ed we trust’ approach. Unfortunately I find it hard to go along with this – mainly because I’ve seen over the years how much Ed Smith the writer liked to put some whacky ideas out there. Sometimes it seemed to me that he explored these ideas just for the sake of exploring them.

My big fear is that in a straight shootout between Clarke and Pope, the younger man got the nod simply because he’s a sexier or more interesting / stimulating pick. And this, of course, would be very harsh on Clarke. Obviously me making such statements is a bit dangerous. After all, it’s just a theory of mine and it’s very hard to substantiate. Therefore, I’ll try to put it another way without using the pejorative and somewhat facetious language I’ve used in the past! I hope you’ll see why expressing this argument in a tweet is almost impossible.

Basically, I believe all people (including me of course) make decisions based on their experiences and personality. Call it a ‘way of thinking’ if you like. And this way of thinking naturally reflects a set of biases. For example, some people are naturally risk-averse and hate the idea of the unknown. Other people, on the other hand, are natural risk takers and they’re enamoured with ideas that are bold. They also love thinking outside the box – if only for its own sake. I’m sure we’ve all come across such characters in the office.

It’s my assertion, after reading his prose for years, that Ed Smith falls into this latter bracket. And I do think it’s a danger that this impacts his decision-making process. Therefore, given a choice between a fancy new strategy that’s something of a risk, and a safer route than others (even the majority) might take, then I think he’s wired to prefer the former. And I worry this could be why, in my very humble opinion, Pope has got the nod over Clarke in this specific instance. I wouldn’t exactly write this in an academic paper (or even a broadsheet newspaper) but this is just a blog so forgive me this indulgence and speculation.

I’ve said in the past that there’s nothing sinister about Smith’s approach (if indeed it is Smith’s approach). It’s very human. However, my suspicions in this instance have been fuelled by some of the reasons given for Clarke’s omission. For example, some journalists have suggested that Clarke was left out because his fielding isn’t up to scratch. I find this a bit curious because he’s actually a wicket-keeper; therefore his hands should be a lot safer than Malan’s. When the reasons given for a particular decision don’t add up, I naturally look for other reasons – and I suspect the real reasons might be too illogical for the powers that be to admit.

Anyway, the bottom line is that none of this really matters. England have picked a promising 20 year old and this is probably something to celebrate. In the past England have been weighed down by conservatism. There were times during the Flower era when the same names were trotted out test after test no matter how poorly the team had played the game beforehand. Perhaps having a national selector who’s cut from a different cloth makes a nice change? Even if there’s a danger of going from one extreme to the other.

Either way we all wish Ollie Pope all the best on debut. I hope he scores millions.

James Morgan

2018-08-06T07:28:35+00:00 August 6th, 2018|Talking Points|29 Comments

29 Comments

  1. Janet Haines August 6, 2018 at 8:06 am - Reply

    EdCould be a big mistake.
    Look what happened when Kerrigan of Lancashire was introduced into the England team.
    He sadly failed and obviously his confidence was shattered and his cricket suffered

    • Growltiger August 6, 2018 at 10:39 am - Reply

      Unfortunately for Kerrigan, his confidence failed him before he sent down a ball, his action crumbled, and he was not at all the same bowler as the one who had been picked. You can never rule out something like this happening to any player who is asked to make the step up, but Pope has a fine record of adjusting to whatever is asked of him; cameos in T20 and match-saving hundreds in four day matches have come alike to him. Also, his technique is both simple and classical (the improvised shots aside) so there is relatively little to go wrong.

  2. John August 6, 2018 at 8:14 am - Reply

    Has it been confirmed he’s going to bat at 4 ? I assumed when I read of the selection that he would bat at 6, with Buttler at 5 which, I must admit, concerned me.

    • James Morgan August 6, 2018 at 8:54 am - Reply

      Just trying to recall where I read that he’d bat 4. Pretty sure it was Aggers and then Athers. Plus the usual sources on Twitter. It would make more sense to bat him at 6 I agree.

      • John August 6, 2018 at 10:28 am - Reply

        Can I guess what you think about Buttler at 5 ? !!!

        • James Morgan August 6, 2018 at 12:10 pm - Reply

          I’d be delighted to see Buttler up the order. No point having a specialist batsman at 7! We can then find out if he’s good enough to be a test top order player or not. Hopefully it’s the former.

          • John August 6, 2018 at 4:20 pm - Reply

            Fair point ! I’m happier with him at 7 with Root, Bairstow and Pope at 4,5 & 6. 3 remains the problem position – I think Root should bat where he’s most comfortable and the side should be built around him, rather than using him to plug a gap.

  3. Rupert August 6, 2018 at 8:16 am - Reply

    Catching was woeful at Edgbaston. Genuine question to those more in the know than I: Jos Buttler is also a wicket keeper, so why is he not standing at first slip? And why is Joe Root not at second slip, at the very least to Anderson, Broad and Stokes who are more than capable of setting their own fields?

    • John August 6, 2018 at 10:38 am - Reply

      I confess to not being TB’s greatest fan, but surely the preferred configuration of the slip cordon should be decided by captain and coach in advance, otherwise how can they practice as a unit ? This sort of thing was a feature of Fletcher’s tenure, for example, where he had the slips doing catching practice as a unit prior to a Test match. I don’t know what Buttler is like at slip – keeping is different – but in my view you always want your best slip catchers in the slips and one of them is Root.
      In passing, why did catching cradles go out of fashion ? There was no better way of practising ‘Reaction’ catches.

    • Simon H August 6, 2018 at 3:30 pm - Reply

      TV showed a graphic during the match which seemed to prove that England and India are the two worst teams for slip catching off seamers in recent years (NZ were the best, catching 91% of their chances. No wonder England refuse to play them…. ).

      By the way, it’s weird that if England had lost much of the blame would have gone on Malan’s dropped catch – but nobody seems to mention Dhawan dropping Curran in a similar light (Dhawan may not have even touched the ball but it went in the air within reach and so was a dropped catch – and not really that difficult a one).

  4. Down At Third Man August 6, 2018 at 9:10 am - Reply

    Test selection is a system of rationing development opportunities. The unknowable is, – give ten Tests to X and we don’t know the opportunity cost of giving those ten Tests to someone else.

    County cricket tells us virtually nothing about Test cricket potential. The process is a severe examination of technique. On the better wickets and with much more time available to bat the newcomer batsman has many of the cards. Until he is worked out. As we have seen time and again over the last decade. After ten Tests people start saying it is obvious X doesn’t have the technique nor the willingness to adapt.

    Hope you won’t mind me repeating that England need a No:3. They have a No. 4 in Root. He is wasted at 3. And if you wanted to ‘invest’ a development opportunity in a relatively young batsman, I would have given the gig to Al Davies. Very sound technique. Very clever cricketing brain. A fighter. Tenacious. Good against spin. Small and bats under the ball. Plays back. Brought up keeping to some very good Lancashire legspinners. Has had plenty of experience reading them.

    • Marc Evans August 6, 2018 at 11:33 am - Reply

      I would suggest Root is better at 3. He has the best technique of any of our batsmen and would surely have made a century if not run out by a Bairstow call at Edgbaston. We have a plethora of strokemakers who can fill the middle order. 4 is supposed to be occupied by your most destructive batsman. The Lara’s, Richards and Tendulcars of this world. Root is an accumulator, so he takes less risks. It will help develop his temperament batting at 3 where occupation of the crease is key. This has been his Achilles heel recently. His last 28 England 50’s have produced only 5 hundreds, most of this batting at 4.

  5. James August 6, 2018 at 9:16 am - Reply

    One thing that seems to me making a return is picking on character as well as potential, as is seen with Sam Curran. The maturity that Pope has is incredible for his age, and having been in the Surrey CAG setup, albeit a few years below him, I believe Ollie has always been earmarked for being genuinely very good.

  6. Metatone August 6, 2018 at 9:20 am - Reply

    I think the big thing is, if you think CC batting has any meaning, Pope’s average is way better than Clarke at the moment.

    85 vs 44

    That’s not even close.

    So really, it’s you who are trying to make the counter-intuitive pick here.

    • James Morgan August 6, 2018 at 9:46 am - Reply

      It’s such a small sample size though. Pope has been playing in a winning team at The Oval behind some very good players who have sometimes worn the bowlers down by the time he comes to the crease. Clarke has been playing at New Road for a struggling team, and often coming out when the ball is still very hard. What’s more, his average reflects the troughs in form as well as the peaks because it represents 3-4 years as a pro. Pope’s average is based on his purple patch alone (as he hasn’t yet played a full season). They both have 3 hundreds this year I think.

      • Nigel August 6, 2018 at 10:27 am - Reply

        But in reality, it’s probably a coin toss between Pope and Clarke.
        Collingwood, who had observed him play for the Lions, rates him very highly. Reading the cricinfo interview, he’s a very smart player, and has been mentored by Sangakkara.

        If this were an England side with a settled top order, I don’t think the selection would be particularly controversial. As it is, the questions about numbers one, two and three make it riskier – but in any event, arguably better to introduce him now than when we have a couple of new openers…

  7. Douglas M August 6, 2018 at 9:53 am - Reply

    Doesn’t always follow that high averages in the CC continue into the Tests. It is very much technique as Down At Third Man says above, but its also about the mental step up from the 1st class game. Some very good players just do not cut it at test level, Mark Ramprakash comes to mind. Probably the best technical batsman of recent times, but for some reason could not repeat his county form at test level. Hick was similar. Sometimes its not your best technician who makes it, Jo Clarke bats in Division 2 and the step up to Division 1 is considerable, Tom Curran only took 26 CC wickets last year in Div 1, against over 40 in Div 2 for example the year before.. Pope is an outstanding young batsman and after watching him at Surrey all season fully deserves his chance here. No 6 yes because Root is the best number 4. No 3? mmmm…

    I see the majority of both England and India batsman being influenced by ODI/T20 in the way they mostly all play now. It seems to be lets do this as quick as we can, look at Butler’s awful shot for instance. Kohli is the outstanding player on both sides because he has the ability to adapt his game which others don’t or perhaps won’t. If you can bat like him you can strut around as much as you like in my book!

    OK we had a thriller, but it came about because of a 20 year old’s outstanding batting at no 8, and conversely pretty bad batting and generally good bowling by both teams. If Lords spins, and it may well do so, my money would be on India.

    • James Morgan August 6, 2018 at 9:59 am - Reply

      Totally agree re: Ramprakash and Hick. Clarke plays in div1 currently by the way 🙂 I guess we never know who will prosper until they’re given a go.

      • Doug M August 6, 2018 at 11:12 am - Reply

        Sorry James, I know you are a Worcs supporter. I was thinking of last year. Albeit they have only won one game so far, but did draw against us (Surrey)! Am going to the match in September, great place to go and watch cricket by the way.

        • James Morgan August 6, 2018 at 12:13 pm - Reply

          Cheers Doug! I’m perfectly happy to admit that I’m biased in Clarke’s favour 🙂

  8. Dominic Friel August 6, 2018 at 10:27 am - Reply

    Have to say both pope and Clarke are fantastic players and both will have been close. The fielding thing is misinformed I’m sure as Clarke is an absolute gun in the outfield. (Both are also very good keepers). I also really like both players games though pope has a slightly more simple and orthodox technique. He’s played with authority this year so have no problem in. Thinking he can step up, the only worry is that he’s not batted in the top order for Surrey so step up could be very tough – only reason I’d have favoured Clarke slightly as he bats 3/4. I also wouldn’t have any problem in buttler keeping and bairstow batting 4, both him and pope are keeper batsmen and middle order players so why not put the more experienced bairstow at 4, he’s in great form too. I also worry that in the last year bairstow has played beautifully but made few match defining scores, he often gets out to loose or forcing strokes, perhaps more responsibility with the bat will help?

    • Dominic Friel August 6, 2018 at 10:32 am - Reply

      Also, big thing to like about Clarke, often scores big runs at big moments when the team needs it, don’t know how many 4th innings tons he’s got but I remember a few well

  9. Marc Evans August 6, 2018 at 11:05 am - Reply

    If Pope’s made of the right stuff he should be able to come back if it doesn’t work out for him this time. Most other countries have always picked bright young things, whereas over here we tend to be more conservative. I don’t see why others should naturally mature any differently from our youngsters, to me it’s just a tradition without much evidence to the contrary. Making out that this is some sort of, as James would say ‘funky’ choice, seems daft to me. If Pope fails Smith will carry the can, so it’s actually a pretty brave decision.
    Don’t see a problem batting Pope at 5 or even 6, his normal position, as Butler should be 4 anyway, being our best strokemaker and Bairstow showed enough at Edgbaston to fill the 5 spot.

  10. Comte August 6, 2018 at 11:07 am - Reply

    Let’s just concentrate on Clarke for the minute. As a Worcester lifer I’ve seen a lot of him but never keeping although he regards keeping as one of his skills. But he wouldn’t be keeping in the Test side so that skill is irrelevant. Nor does he field in the slips. He’s not the best catcher in the side by any means and his returns from the deep are not the most accurate. He is a fine batsman but seems to have some mental flaws which he will hopefully eradicate before too long. I have no problem with his being overlooked at the moment.
    I’ve not seen Pope in the flesh but he looked good a couple of times on TV. I reckon Smith has gone for the ‘character’ pick. Curran has shown character and I hope Pope does the same.
    My gripe with Smith is in his continuing to select Cook, who would be better employed on the farm.

  11. Paul August 6, 2018 at 3:42 pm - Reply

    Hi James. I can’t comment much on the selection of Pope, as I’ve not seen much of him. I’m more concrend by our batting, we have one world class batsman in Kohli and seemingly no one else. At this rate Ishant Sharma could open the innings with bat and ball and nobody would notice a difference. I don’t think recalling pujara is the key either, considering that he struggled the whole season in the CC: Dhawan’s technique (or lack of it) is grossly inadequate for any pitch that’s nto a batsman’s paradise, and evidenced by his dismissals. Perhaps we might need to get some young blood in, and probably pick jadeja as well.

    • James Morgan August 6, 2018 at 5:39 pm - Reply

      Jadeja is in the world’s top 10 in the rankings I recall so it’s a bit odd he’s not in the team. The pitches might not be his cuppa, but he’d still keep it tight and cause a few problems with his guile – especially against all our left handers. Bats a bit too of course.

  12. Simon H August 7, 2018 at 11:21 am - Reply

    “16 potential jury members were asked if they had any interest in cricket that might, potentially, render them unsuitable for service in this case. None of them expressed any interest.”

    Imagine the difficulty they’ll have finding juries for cricket-related trials after 2020 and the introduction of The Hundred….

    • oreston August 7, 2018 at 1:18 pm - Reply

      It’ll be fine. They can’t appoint a jury composed exclusively of mums and children…

      Anyway, it’s increasingly an open question as to whether The Hundred will actually be “cricket.” The way the ECB are driving a coach and horses through the Laws and customs of the game we’re potentially approaching a William Webb Ellis moment.

  13. muffin August 7, 2018 at 7:41 pm - Reply

    Is there an argument for filling the entire top 7 with wicket-keepers? It could easily be done, without obviously weakening the side (except that Root woould have to bat at 8!)

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