Ben Stokes tips Ollie Pope and Zak Crawley to shine under new England leadership

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·3-min read
Ben Stokes tips Ollie Pope and Zak Crawley to shine under new England leadership
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Ben Stokes is confident that he and new coach Brendon McCullum can “get the best out of” young batters Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope.

The two 24-year-olds line up in England’s top three for the First Test against New Zealand at Lord’s on Thursday, despite middling records – both average 28.6 – from more than 20 Tests apiece.

Both, however, have shown moments of class and promise. Crawley put a disappointing first-class record behind him to score 267 against Pakistan in 2020, and made his second hundred on the recent tour of the Caribbean. He has proved an enigmatic figure, capable of taking apart the best attacks in the world, before carelessly giving his wicket away a match later.

Pope scored his maiden hundred on the tour of South Africa in 2020 and averaged 43 after 10 Tests. Despite continuous excellence for Surrey, for whom he averages 73, he has struggled in Tests since. He will bat No3 this summer despite never having done so in first-class cricket.

Stokes, though, is confident that “the world will get to see what Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope are all about”.

Ollie Pope and Zak Crawley have struggled for consistency with England so far (Getty Images)
Ollie Pope and Zak Crawley have struggled for consistency with England so far (Getty Images)

“Zak’s shown in stages how dominant and how good a player he is,” he said. “And I really do believe that under myself and Brendon, we will be able to get the best out of him.

“Popey, as soon as I took the role on, one of the things that I made very clear is that I want Ollie Pope in my Test team, and then it was just about making a decision where we see him fitting in that batting order.

“He went back to Surrey, batting at four and was just banging runs out like he does. But, first and foremost, I want Ollie Pope in my team because he's such a good player and I see him having a huge future in an England shirt.

“I just hope that under mine and Baz’s laidback and go-and-express-yourself way that the world will get to see what Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope are all about.”

After the youngsters come Joe Root, from whom Stokes inherited the captaincy, Jonny Bairstow and Stokes, who has slipped back to No6 in a bid to get back to his all-round best. He confirmed that he has no knee trouble and will be capable of playing a full part with the ball.

Stokes’ mum Deb and brother James have travelled from New Zealand for the new captain’s first Test in charge. Stokes, who lost his father Ged in 2020, said it would be an emotional week, but facing New Zealand was no different from any other side.

"I knew my mum was coming, but I had no idea my brother was turning up,” he said. "So that was a nice surprise yesterday. They managed to keep it a secret. Wayne Bentley, our team manager, has kept that a secret from me.

“It's a very special week for other reasons as well. My family coming over, wife and kids, mum and brother and my cousin is here as well.

“I'm very proud of where I came from, and my heritage and family and all that kind of stuff. But, you know, I’ve had the England shirt on over 200 times. So, at the end of the day, it’s England v New Zealand. In terms of any extra emotions it would be the same if I was doing it against Australia.”

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