Everyone is susceptible – Brendon McCullum defends Ollie Pope’s nervy starts

By Sports Desk March 04, 2024

Brendon McCullum urged Ollie Pope to loosen up early on in his innings but pointed out England’s vice-captain is not alone in having a reputation as a nervy starter.

Pope has had mixed fortunes in India. A career-defining 196 underpinned a famous England triumph in Hyderabad but the number three batter has amassed a combined 89 runs in his other seven knocks.

He has been accused of being on edge when first arriving at the crease and faced just three deliveries in Ranchi without scoring as India moved into an unassailable 3-1 lead in the five-match Test series.

His first-innings dismissal, charging down the wicket to Akash Deep and out lbw, was symptomatic of a batter with a cluttered mindset but McCullum argued some of the greats could be cagey at the outset.

Former England captain Kevin Pietersen was famously anxious to get off nought throughout his decorated career and would frequently set off for a risky single.

“It’s tough – he played three balls in the game,” McCullum said of Pope. “Pietersen, (Ricky) Ponting, guys like that were all frenetic at the start, everyone’s susceptible when they first go out to bat.”

Fifteen months ago, Pope praised England head coach McCullum and captain Ben Stokes for removing “a fear of getting out”. Under the duo, Pope has flourished and averages 40.85 in his last 19 Tests, a significant improvement from 28.66 in his first 23 matches.

While shielding Pope from criticism, McCullum thinks the 26-year-old is capable of further improvement and can adapt to situations rather than thinking too much about batting while still in the pavilion.

“He’s trying to be as calm as he can when he goes out there and there’s a period when he needs to grab information from the wicket and get the rhythm of how the game is going,” McCullum added.

“For him, the key is to not have played his innings before he goes out there, just to be nice and calm, relaxed and go out there and be able to back himself in that situation.

“He’s aware of that, that’s ultimately what everyone is trying to do when they go out and play. He obviously bagged them in the last Test and he’s gutted.”

Despite two anonymous showings with the bat, Pope’s enthusiasm in India’s successful pursuit of 192 impressed McCullum, whose side will be looking for a consolation victory this week in Dharamsala.

“The way he was helping the skipper and diving around in the field, that’s the stuff you’re desperate for as a coach, to see people giving it their best regardless of their own performance,” McCullum said.

“It was great leadership qualities and shows where he’s at as a player, member of the team and as a person.”

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