Pope said that he rated his fifth Test century “head and shoulders above the other four” and described India as “probably the toughest place for a batter to come at the minute”. On England’s most recent tour of the country, in 2021, he managed 153 runs across four innings with a top score of 34 and said that he had made technical adjustments during his comeback.
“I’ve tinkered throughout my career so far,” Pope said. “I’ve changed my technique slightly for this series specifically. I had shoulder surgery, so I’ve had a long time to prepare for this series and make some adjustments to what I produced the last time we were here three years ago. I’ve worked hard on my game and tried to tailor my technique for these conditions.”
Pope was caught at slip for 1, prodding at Ravindra Jadeja, in the first innings. “We played on some pretty extreme wickets last time around and you realise that there’s always going to be one danger. For me, that was the outside edge,” he said. “If the ball is turning away from me, someone nicks me off and I get caught at slip, I’ve got to be at peace with that.
“It was about covering my inside edge and trying to put some pressure back on the bowlers as well with the sweeps and reverse sweeps… The guys we are facing are very skilled bowlers. You can pretty much know where each ball is going to land and if you try to defend each ball there’s probably more chance to get out than if you play a cross-batted shot.”
Stokes and Brendon McCullum, England’s coach, have consistently told players that there will be no recriminations if they are out playing attacking shots. “We practise those shots enough and if you get out for none playing a reverse sweep you’re not going to get a load of chat in the changing room about that,” Pope said. “You can go and commit to it.
“I don’t think I nailed my first 20-odd runs, I was thinking ‘why is it not hitting the middle of the bat’. But then out here it could be as safe as playing a defence, a sweep or reverse sweep. If we can keep nailing them we get more bad balls as batters if we can hit their best ball for four with a reverse sweep. That is going to lead to more short balls and more half-volleys and open up the outfield.”
Dravid, India’s head coach, was particularly effusive in his praise for Pope. “That was an exceptional innings,” he said. “It’s important that we respond and come up with some plans and some strategies, and see how we can maybe make him play those shots from even more difficult lengths and be even more disciplined… hopefully in the next Test match, if we get our execution right, then I hope he makes a mistake.”
Pope had not batted in a competitive match since the second Ashes Test in June, but said that England’s pre-tour training camp in the UAE had left him feeling confident heading to India.
“It was just about getting back up to speed and playing cricket again, and getting my mind right – going through those processes you have as a batter,” he said. “In the past, I’ve generally been someone who needs a couple of knocks to start feeling my best, but credit to Baz [McCullum] and Stokesy for the way we’ve gone about this whole week in general. I brushed that first innings behind me pretty quickly… we got into a Test match pretty relaxed now. We put in all that work in Abu Dhabi in the pre-camp and just tried to enjoy it. That’s allowed us to come back from that big deficit.”
Stokes said that Pope had also proved his worth in the field: not only when taking catches at short leg and silly point off Tom Hartley, but also as vice-captain. “I keep going to him for ideas, plans and what he sees,” he said. “There’s a lot of different angles and views from different parts of the ground. I thought Popey, not only with the bat this week but with his role as vice-captain, was fantastic.”
Pope said that the role – which he has officially held since May – has helped him stay in the moment: “It’s good to immerse yourself in what you’re doing. Rather than just standing in the field thinking about my forward defence, which I probably did three or four years ago, actually thinking about plans and stuff is better. There’s no need to think too much about the batting.”
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98