Ollie Pope described himself as a player transformed by the positive outlook the England team have recently adopted, after his innings of 145 helped drag the home side towards parity in the second Test against New Zealand.
There was certainly a positive outlook for anyone with a view of the scoreboard after Pope banked his first century in 34 attempts, Joe Root made it to stumps unbeaten on 163 and England ended the day on 473 for five, exactly 80 behind.
In first-class cricket Pope averages 72.7 for Surrey but just 27.6 for England, a record that led him to fear he would lose his place after Brendon McCullum was appointed as Test coach. Instead he has received the public backing of the New Zealander and the new captain, Ben Stokes, and was promoted to No 3.
“I don’t think I was necessarily expecting amazing news and to get the phone call I was just buzzing. I remember having a little celebration whilst strolling with my dog,” he said of the moment McCullum broke the news. “This is the first time I’ve felt like I can be a No 3 in red-ball cricket. I’ve made a few technical adjustments to my game and with my mindset, and to get the runs today certifies that in my mind.”
It has not always been easy for an English Test cricketer to feel positive in recent years, but with Alex Lees scoring his debut half-century, Pope profiting from a lightning outfield and Root excelling once again this was very much their day.
“We’re seeing England’s greatest ever,” Pope said of Root, with whom he put on 187 for the third wicket and from whom he received an enthusiastic bear-hug on reaching triple figures. “I don’t think I’ve ever been hugged like that, and I don’t know if I will again. He wants success for his teammates as much as they do themselves, and it’s a great attribute to have.” McCullum’s arrival and the bursting of Covid bubbles have massively improved the mood in England’s dressing room. “It’s been so, so fun,” Pope said. “When you got a call in the past it was amazing, but you knew that was it, see the outside world in two months – which has a toll on people.
“We had a barbecue at our hotel a couple of days before this game and just being able to spend time together as a group of mates makes the whole process more enjoyable – and hopefully you can see that in the way we’re being on the pitch. Whatever you call it, the red-ball reset or whatever, I’m loving every minute of it.”
New Zealand’s Kyle Jamieson left the field in the afternoon after feeling a sharp pain in his back, one symptom of a punishing day for the tourists’ bowlers. “We learned in our innings that it was a good wicket and a fast outfield, so a lot of boundaries are hit,” Trent Boult said. “I suppose all you can look to do is stack up the pressure and bowl balls in good areas, and if they’re good enough to hit then so be it.”