Ollie Pope admits England are searching for a way to burst Steve Smith’s bubble in the Ashes, after the “stubborn” Australian notched up yet another century in the World Test Championship final.
Smith ground India’s bowlers down with a meticulous 121 at Pope’s home of the Oval, the 31st ton of his career and a seventh in English conditions that have served him well over the years.
It took India 268 deliveries and over five-and-a-half hours to end the 34-year-old’s knock, as his trademark bloody-mindedness once again came to the fore.
It was reminiscent of some of Smith’s epic occupations against England, against whom he has scored three double centuries, and Pope believes finding a way to derail his famed concentration could be the key to preventing more of the same this summer.
“He loves batting in England, over the years he averages over 60 here now. It’s obvious he knows these conditions and he knows his game inside out, so there’s a lot of respect for him,” said Pope.
“But there’s also a lot of talented bowlers in our changing room who have worked out ways we can challenge him. I can’t say too much but there’s probably slightly different plans this time.
“He’s got his routines – his slightly longer routines – before he faces each ball and he won’t be ready until he’s done all those routines. What’s made him successful is that stubbornness and that stubbornness for runs as well. That’s exactly the bubble we’ve got to try and get him out of.
“Steve Smith is a highly-skilled batter and scores a lot of runs but I think for him we might be looking at even quirkier ways to challenge him, test him out and make him as uncomfortable as we possibly can to try and get his wicket.”
While Smith’s Ashes record makes him a clear and obvious target, Pope is still looking to make his mark on the famous rivalry.
He was nursing a dislocated shoulder during the last series here in 2019 and endured a miserable time Down Under in 2021/22, making just 67 runs in three matches.
The 25-year-old’s status has soared since then, elevated to the crucial number three position by Ben Stokes and subsequently establishing himself as the skipper’s heir apparent.
He cracked a career-best 205 against Ireland in his final pre-Ashes innings and is certain he is a different prospect to the one who stumbled last time around.
Speaking at an event with England sponsors Radox, Pope said: “I’ve worked really hard and I’m definitely a better player than I was in the last Ashes. Hopefully I can show that in the runs I score.
“I’ve got a lot more experience, I know my game a lot better. I’ve worked hard at my game from a technical point of view, just to make everything slightly smaller in terms of less hand movement and less foot movement, a stiller base.
“From a mental point, obviously with this McCullum-Stokes era, I feel like it’s allowed me just to go and play rather than have to worry about getting out the whole time and what’s going to be said to me.
“The last Ashes was tough. I kind of assumed Jonny Bairstow was going to be playing the first Test, I found out the night before, probably about 9pm that I was playing. When you’re not certain, it’s quite hard to actually mentally properly prepare yourself.
“We’ve got a changing room now where everyone knows their position and everyone is having a lot of fun in that changing room, enjoying each other’s company. It just creates a really good environment that gives you every possible chance of success and that has been produced from the guys at the top.”
:: Ollie Pope was speaking on behalf of Radox, the Official shower gel of England Cricket.