Ollie Pope insists England’s first Test tactics were not ‘moments of madness’
Ollie Pope insists England’s tactical gambles at Edgbaston were not “moments of madness” and is ready to embrace more of the same during the second Ashes Test at Lord’s this week.
England took a gung-ho approach to the series opener against Australia, most strikingly when Ben Stokes declared just 78 overs into the first day in a bid to catch the tourists cold and snap up some late wickets.
The attacking ‘Bazball’ ethos continued as the hosts pushed the game forward throughout the five days, only to lose by two wickets during a frantic final session.
Some of England’s decision-making has attracted scepticism from pundits and former players but, as Stokes’ vice-captain, Pope sees logic to every call the side made in Birmingham.
And, when the rivals resume battle on Wednesday, he backed England to take the same approach.
“I know sometimes it can look like it’s just moments of madness but all the decisions that are made are well thought out with a vision of the end goal,” he said.
“These decisions aren’t just a rash thought. They are well thought out and spoken about by senior players in the changing room.
“We come to a group decision and back that decision 100 per cent. There’s no looking back on that decision once it’s made, it’s about how we can make the most of it.
“We might find ourselves in a similar situation this week, who knows? That’s what Stokesy and Baz (head coach Brendon McCullum) are very good at, they read conditions very well.
“We’ll talk consistently throughout this Test match, (about) if there’s a decision like the first day at Edgbaston when we pulled out.
“If we feel there are overheads one evening and we might have a half-hour opportunity to get a few wickets and get into their middle order early the next day, then we’ll talk about it.”
One risk that England will need to weigh up involves the selection of spinner Moeen Ali.
He was tempted out of Test retirement on the eve of the series following a season-ending injury to Jack Leach but saw his right index finger blister and burst, reducing him to a bystander’s role in the conclusion of the game.
Pope faced Moeen in the Lord’s nets on Monday and offered a positive assessment, but despite five days of rest and recovery it seems impossible to rule out a recurrence of the issue if the 36-year-old was rolled out again.
England have called up 18-year-old leg-spinner Rehan Ahmed, their youngest ever men’s cricketer in all three formats, as cover but could also recall paceman Mark Wood and lean on Joe Root’s part-time off-breaks.
“I think Mo’s all good, hopefully he’s fit to play,” said Pope.
“It was pretty unfortunate what happened and hopefully over these few days it has looked after itself.”
Ollie Robinson’s place, on the other hand, is under no doubt whatsoever.
The 29-year-old performed impressively with the ball in the first Test, taking five for 98, but has become a target for Australian ire due to his explicit sledging of centurion Usman Khawaja and an unapologetic press conference which followed.
Former greats such as Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Matthew Hayden have lined up to shoot down the Sussex seamer – with Hayden colourfully writing him off as a purveyor of “124kph nude nuts” – but Pope is not concerned about the impact.
“Maybe he sees it as a compliment. They’re legends of the game and are entitled to their own opinion,” said Pope.
“Robbo’s in good spirits this week so hopefully he can just come out and deliver with the ball. I think Ollie is the kind of guy, he gets in the battle and sometimes in a big series like this emotions take over while you are on the pitch, but he’s a top guy.”