England vs New Zealand, 2nd Test

Ollie Pope described his “relief” after recording his second Test hundred, and first on home soil, in the second Test against New Zealand at Trent Bridge, saying that he hoped his innings of 145 could be the start of a more consistent period of run-scoring for England after a difficult 18 months.

He also paid tribute to Joe Root, his partner during a 187-run stand that formed the bedrock of England’s reply to the daunting first-innings total of 553 posted by New Zealand. Root was quick to embrace Pope when he reached the milestone shortly after lunch, before going on to bring up a breezy century of his own – his second in successive innings, fourth of the year and 10th since January 2021, leading Pope to described him as “England’s greatest-ever” batter.

Pope was recalled to the side at Lord’s last week having been dropped following the 2021-22 Ashes, and also promoted up the order to No. 3 – a position where he had never previously batted in first-class cricket. His hundred was his second in Tests, his first since January 2020, and came almost four years after his debut.

“It hasn’t been the easiest ride over the last year or so,” Pope said. “A few tough tours away, didn’t play a massive amount last summer. Once I got over the line, it was a relief but I was just so happy. You have to take in those moments, which is something I’ve come to realise over the last year or so.

“I’ve tried to get into this mindset of whatever good cricket I’m playing, I don’t want to look too far ahead or behind. ‘Play where your feet are’ is the saying we’ve got at the minute. You don’t want to look at the bigger picture too much because that stuff isn’t going to help you in the middle.

“But as the same time, 25 Tests, it’s a great honour to have played that many Tests, but I want to be performing more consistently than I have over the last year or so. But I also feel I’ve learned a lot about my game and Test cricket and hopefully I can take forward and use this as a starting point with the bank of knowledge I’ve gained already.”

Pope said that the emphasis placed on enjoying the game by England’s new Test captain, Ben Stokes, and coach, Brendon McCullum, had helped free him up. He was twice out cheaply at Lord’s and survived being dropped on 41 on the second evening in Nottingham, but continued to look for scoring opportunities throughout his innings, which eventually ended via a top-edged pull to deep backward square – a shot that had twice brought him six.

“You’re going to get out somehow and I think that’s allowed me to play my game and give me a bit more confidence, and start seeing everything in a little bit more positive light, in the Test arena, because that’s what I do for Surrey and that’s what has brought me a lot of success,” he said.

The aggression shown by England, initially during a stand of 141 between Pope and Alex Lees – who scored his first Test half-century – and then the third-wicket association between Pope and Root, meant they piled on 383 runs in 88 overs on day three, a run rate of 4.35 that reflected perfectly the Stokes-McCullum mantra and allowed them to put pressure back on New Zealand with two days left in the game.

“The good thing at Trent Bridge is the outfield is rapid so it’s amazing to bat on,” Pope said. “So once you do get in – I think I was 11 off 40-odd – suddenly you get a few away and then the scoreboard can just race away. That’s something I always had in my mind. It might not happen to that extent at other grounds, but it was always in the back of my mind that if there was a tricky little period if I could get through that then there might be a couple of bad balls you could capitalise and get the score really moving forward.”

While Pope’s progression to his hundred was accompanied by the odd flutter of nerves – even on such a docile pitch – there was a far jauntier air about Root skipping to three figures. His 116-ball century was his fastest in Tests, and he cruised on through the evening session to finish the day on 163 not out.

Like Pope, he benefited for a drop in the slips – Tim Southee only able to tip a slashed top edge up and away for four. But he remained unruffled, rubbing in the pain for Southee when threading him between three fielders stationed in the covers later in the afternoon for one of his 25 fours. His hundred came up via an under-edged swipe to fine leg, producing a sheepish shrug as he celebrated with Pope.

When he moved to 150 late in the evening session with a wristy whip off Southee, it brought a shake of head in disbelief from his captain. An unorthodox slap down the ground followed, loaded with Kevin Pietersen-levels of disdain. “Shoes off if you love Joe Root”, came the slightly baffling chant from the stands, as several hundred England supporters stood holding their footwear aloft in salute.

“We’re seeing England’s greatest ever,” Pope said, when asked about the experience of batting alongside Root. “You don’t want to necessarily replicate what he does but try to learn as much as I can off of him. Whether that’s him throwing balls at you for 20 minutes at the end of the session, which he’ll always happily do, and if he sees something – even from the mindset point of view, trying to pick his brains as much as I possibly can, especially while he’s in this amazing run of form.

“The relentless nature of what he’s doing is something I can really learn off. He wants success for his team-mates as much as they do themselves, so it’s a great attribute.”

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick

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