Why England should leave Pope at #6



Ollie Pope is the most exciting batting prospect to come through the England ranks since Joe Root in 2012.


When you watch Pope you remember why you fell in love with test cricket in the first place. It's poetry in motion, it's Ian Bell at his finest, it's shades of Kumar Sangakkara on the front root, Ricky Ponting on the cover drive coupled with a little Rahul Dravid timing.


If you think I'm over exaggerating, well maybe I am. But Ollie Pope can go on to be one of the finest batsmen this country has ever produced, I've seen enough of him to feel confident about that.


Pope is just 22 years old. He's already accumulated a fine record on the county scene. In 36 matches, he's scored 2,690 runs at an average of 61.13. He's already hit 9 centuries and secured a double century with a top score of 251.


Pope has only appeared in 7 test games for England, but he's already scored 430 runs at an average of 47.77 including a 135* on the recent tour to South Africa. In short, he is on a steep trajectory to the next station called "consistent runs".


England have sometimes been too slow to call exciting young players into the team, and too quick to mess around with them once they're there.


Pope was called up to the England side in 2018 to fill in at #4 against India. He looked good at points and he looked as though he'd never batted in that position at points. For Surrey in 2019, Pope predominantly played at #5 and towards the end of the season, #4.


His international breakthrough came this past winter with a 75, 61* and 135* all coming at #6 or even #7 when talking about the 75 against New Zealand.


Following that success, talk of moving Pope up to the #3 spot became louder and louder. A position he's never played for England. Pope is so technically gifted that I'm confident that given time he could make that #3 spot his own, and I'm sure he would score runs at that position. In fact, I'm confident that he is destined to spend a large chunk of his career around the #4 position for England.


However, that move is not now and it's not soon. Batting at #3 in test cricket is a very difficult thing to do. Especially when you have unproven openers. England seems to have found a partner to Burns in Dominic Sibley, but I think he needs to work through an English summer and a sub-continent tour before we say that with any kind of confidence. In short, it's not uncommon to see Englands #3 making an appearance out of the pavilion before the club members have taken their seats.


You don't want to expose a young batsman like Pope to that kind of scrutiny this early in his career. He's averaged just 18 batting at #4 in comparison he's averaged 97.33 at #6 and 28 at #7, with the biggest sample size being at the #6 position.


After two tests in Sri Lanka, England return home for a series with the West Indies and Pakistan, offering Pope the perfect chance to continue his recent form with the bat. Consistency is key at the early stage of his career, batting down at #6, he can quietly continue to accumulate runs and build experience on the international scene. While chances are he'll gain experience at #4 playing for Surrey if they continue to utilise him here in the 2020 season.


There is no benefit to moving Pope to #3 in the next 12-18 months.


Joe Denly may not set the world on fire with a 30.00 average (25.80 in 2020 so far) But he can do a job for England in the short-term. Once Rory Burns returns to the line-up this summer, it's likely that Zak Crawley will have to make way, however, if he continues to make runs he'll surely be moved down to #3 with the soon to be 34 year old Joe Denly making way.


If Zak Crawley fails to make the runs needed and England want to move on from Joe Denly, they could elect to play Sam Hain. A young player who made two half-centuries batting #3 for the Lions during their India tour in February last year. Hain scored 822 runs last year at an average north of 51. Although the majority of those runs did come while batting at #4. Hain is a player who is desperate to make an impression and he'll hopefully get a chance to prove his credentials when the Lions start their final tour match of Australia on Monday.


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