Ollie Pope recalls moment England knew success in India would be uphill struggle

David Charlesworth, PA

Ollie Pope took some valuable lessons from a taxing tour of India as he disclosed the moment he realised England’s batsmen would face an uphill task following a comment from Virat Kohli about the state of the pitches.

England confounded expectations with victory in the first Test but as he was batting for the second time in the series opener at Chennai, Pope revealed he was told by India’s captain: “This is the last of the flat wickets.”

While the tourists largely kept their counsel about the spin-friendly surfaces in the final three Tests, there was plenty of scrutiny outside the camp as their batsmen routinely collapsed in a heap to lose the series 3-1.

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Pope was among those to struggle against India spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel on his return from a serious shoulder injury, with a top score of just 34 despite going to double figures in seven of his eight innings.

However, the 23-year-old believes England can take some solace from India changing tack in the second Test at Chennai and particularly in the final two matches at Ahmedabad after a rare defeat on home soil.

“I remember standing at the non-striker’s end, Kohli came up to me and said, ‘this is the last of the flat wickets’. At that point I knew it was probably going to be quite a challenging rest of the series,” said Pope.

“I’m not saying they felt they had to produce those wickets but the fact they’ve gone away from their flat wickets for three days then spin on day four and five, which is generally a theme out there, was quite a compliment to us.

“That shot us in the foot a little bit but it’s a good compliment to us as a team because they obviously felt they had to change their gameplan.”

The attack-minded Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant were the only top-order batsmen to average in excess of 50 during the series and their aggressive approach from the India pair did not go unnoticed by Pope.

Speaking at Surrey’s pre-season media day ahead of their LV= Insurance County Championship campaign, Pope believes he and fellow young batsmen Dom Sibley, Dan Lawrence and Zak Crawley will be better for their experiences.

“If we look at who was the most successful on those big spinning wickets, it was probably the Rohit Sharmas and Rishabh Pants,” added Pope, who is hopeful his left shoulder issues are at an end after a second surgery last year.

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“Don’t get me wrong, they trusted their defence really well but they’ve got some great boundary options which allowed them to turn the pressure to the bowler a little bit. That was probably my main takeaway.

“Moving forward hopefully we can keep scoring runs, stay in the side, but hopefully for our return in India we know exactly what it requires to be successful – that’s a massive positive for us going forward.

“I’ve also got the positive of sorting my shoulder out, hopefully for good. It should be strong, maybe not stronger but more stable than my right shoulder. I was diving around in India without really thinking about it.”

Pope’s Surrey and England team-mate Rory Burns was left out of the final two Tests against India after scores of 33, nought, nought and 25 in Chennai, but the left-handed opener is optimistic of a comeback this summer.

Rory Burns also struggled in India (Michael Steele/PA)
Rory Burns also struggled in India (Michael Steele/PA)

“There’s a bit of credit in the bank there in terms of what I’ve done over a period of time,” said the Surrey captain ahead of their championship opener at Gloucestershire, which gets under way on April 8.

“But it’s more about what’s going on between my ears, how I’m approaching the game, how I’m doing things in terms of how I want to lead this Surrey side and where we want to go here. That’s my main point of focus now.”

Burns was reluctant to discuss his much-publicised Twitter spat with women’s cricketer Alex Hartley, an incident after which it is understood both parties were reminded of their responsibilities by the England and Wales Cricket Board.

“I think it’s all been dealt with and sewn up,” added Burns. “It’s not something I want to be drawn on. Everyone knows the pros and cons of social media and I don’t want to elaborate any further on my personal views on it.”