India’s Ollie Pope dismissal prediction caught on ‘stump mic’ one ball before wicket

India's Dhruv Jurel (R) celebrates with his teammate Sarfaraz Khan after he stumps out England's Ollie Pope (C) during the first day of the fifth and last Test cricket match between India and England at the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium in Dharamsala on March 7, 2024
Pope was stumped when on just 11 on day one in Dharamsala - Getty Images/Sajjad Hussain

Kuldeep Yadav has revealed how India preyed on Ollie Pope’s impatience to sucker him into an impetuous dismissal on the stroke of lunch.

Wrist-spinner Kuldeep, who claimed a brilliant five-wicket haul on the opening day, had Pope stumped off a beautiful googly in the final over of the morning session, one ball after wicketkeeper Dhruv Jurel predicted the dismissal, saying in Hindi “yeh [Pope] badhega aage, badhega aage”, which translates as “he will step out [of his crease]”.

“Ollie Pope is someone who cannot stay still at the crease for a long time,” explained Kuldeep. “His style is such that he steps out a lot and tries to dominate the spinners by hitting them down the ground.

“So when you have bowled three dot balls, you think about what he will try on the next ball. And it’s a keeper’s job to convey what the batter is looking to do. Sarfaraz [Khan] was also helping from short leg. And he anyway had stepped out early, so it was easy for me to change [my plan].

“It was not that I had planned [the googly] in advance. When I saw him coming out, I changed it.”

Marcus Trescothick, the England batting coach, admitted that Pope – an infamously twitchy starter who recorded a pair in the last Test in Ranchi – is working on “getting into an innings” and “facing high quality spin”, both of which have been problems since the extraordinary 196 he scored in the series opener in Hyderabad.

“It’s always challenging when you’ve just had a pair,” said Trescothick. “He’s got various things that we work on. He’s adapted really well in certain conditions and certain parts of his game. The more he’s tested and plays in these environments and tougher conditions, he’s going to improve.”

Trescothick reflected that, despite a “tough” day for England, he was not worried about the specific approaches of his batsman, but that over the course of a long series, India’s spinners had ground them down. England’s experienced middle order of Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes all fell with the score on 175 to turn the day in India’s favour, and have averages in the twenties for the series.

“When you get a wrist-spinner with variations, of course if you don’t pick it then you’re in a lot of trouble but he also bowled deliveries they did pick and they spun and they managed to still miss them,” Trescothick said.

“I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily scars emerging, I think they’ve been tested and you know you always will be in this environment, it’s a hard place to come and play, results show you it’s always tricky.

“It’s lack of form, confidence when they don’t get runs. There is nothing specific.

“That’s what happens, people go through spells where they don’t score the volume of runs.

“Of course you get tested and that’s why it’s hard work, and that’s why five-test match series are harder than three, because you get to face the bowler over and over again. It’s tough. But I have no fear or problem with any of the players or what they have done.

“I’m sure all the batsmen will be looking at themselves and asking a few questions. Can we do it differently? Can we be better than what we were?”

Trescothick batted away the suggestion that this was an “end of tour” performance, saying: “we are more disappointed than anyone else. We try to be better and try to do things differently. We have that positivity in what we do. It won’t affect how we go about things. They are a good enough team and strong enough, and learn from the mistakes they’ve made.”

Trescothick, 48, played more than 200 matches for England across formats but played his last professional match in 2019. With Ollie Robinson ill, he and assistant coach Paul Collingwood, 47, found themselves in the bizarre situation of being listed as sub fielders alongside Dan Lawrence and Gus Atkinson.

“I’m very hopeful that I never get on,” said Trescothick. “If I do, I’ll be standing at long-leg or something like that. I think Colly’s a bit more hopeful than I am. He’s chomping at the bit to get on there!”

Crawley’s calm authority shows why Pope’s jitters are such an issue

Even for the very best Test batsmen, failure is wired into the game. Don Bradman ended his Test career with a duck. Nearly one in three times that a top-six batsman walks out to the crease, they are dismissed before they have made double figures.

And so, facing criticism about his tendency to begin innings torridly, Ollie Pope would be entitled to retort that he is hardly alone. Yet the notion that he is unusually vulnerable at the start of his innings is not a myth. In all Tests this decade, top six batsmen are dismissed for under 20 in 47 per cent of innings. For Pope, the figure is now 56 per cent: 40 dismissals for under 20 in 76 innings.

After his scintillating 196 in Hyderabad, one of the greatest ever innings played by an Englishman abroad, India are aware of Pope’s qualities. In Pope’s first first-class match for seven months, after dislocating his right shoulder during the Ashes, it seemed to mark a new phase in his career: of the vice-captain converting his abundant potential and dazzling shot-making into regular Test runs.

But as 99 runs in eight innings since attest, India have also become increasingly aware of Pope’s vulnerability at the start of the innings. “Ollie Pope is someone who cannot stay still at the crease for a long time,” said Kuldeep Yadav, who had him stumped for 11 in Dharamshala. “So when you have bowled three dot balls, you think about what he will try on the next ball.” When Kuldeep saw Pope charging in the over before lunch, he used his terrific googly, spinning the ball away and leaving the batsman connecting only with air.

Pope’s early moments at the crease are often marked by an inescapable sense of freneticism, as Brendon McCullum acknowledged before the final Test. “He’s trying to be as calm as he can when he goes out there,” England’s head coach said. “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.”

As McCullum hinted, early on Pope can give the impression of having already made up his mind about his shot before the ball is bowled, like a poker player who has resolved to raise whatever card comes down next. From his first ball in the second innings at Ranchi, when on a pair, Pope moved back, seemingly planning to get off the mark with a single into the leg side: Ravichandran Ashwin’s delivery did not turn quite as much as the batsman had envisaged, leaving him trapped lbw. If this was preplanned, then Pope is learning, like Helmuth von Moltke, that “no plan survives contact with the enemy”.

England's Ollie Pope leaves the ground after losing his wicket on the first day of the fifth and final test match between England and India in Dharamshala, India, Thursday, March 7, 2024
Since his wonderful 195 in Hyderabad, Pope has struggled in this series - AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia

Yet perhaps the greater concern is less Pope’s poor starting, than who he is starting poorly against. Dharamshala is Pope’s 18th Test against India or Australia. Against the two best teams in the world, he now averages just 22.1, passing 50 just twice in 34 innings. Against either the best fast bowlers operating at 90mph, or spin of the highest class, Pope is yet to find a method to bring him regular runs, rather than occasional brilliance.

McCullum once said of Crawley that his role was “to chase great moments” and that he was “never going to be a consistent type of cricketer.” But that description now seems better reserved for England’s No 3.

Crawley and Pope were born just 32 days apart, in 1998. Their Test careers have been intertwined: Crawley is now playing his 44th Test, Pope his 43rd; Crawley’s average is 33,1, Pope’s 34.3. But since the start of last year’s Ashes, Crawley averages 49.3, Pope only 29.7.

For all that England crave a No 3 capable of great moments, they also need one with the durability to prevent wickets falling in clumps and exposing the middle-order. Perhaps Pope could even seek out some advice from a man who has developed consistency to go with his crisp shot-making: Crawley.