Ollie Pope enjoying being a leader in the changeroom
England's Ollie Pope is enjoying being looked up to in the changeroom as he prepares for the possibility of leading the Test side in the future.
Ben Stokes has operated without an official deputy since taking over from Joe Root as skipper, but the vastly experienced Stuart Broad was lined up as a short-term stand-in if required last summer.
Now it appears that Pope has been fast-tracked into a more influential role, taking over the team when Stokes opted to sit out England's two-day warm-up against a New Zealand XI in Hamilton this week.
The 25-year-old performed similar duties against the England Lions in Abu Dhabi in November and has become an increasingly vocal presence behind the scenes in recent months.
While he has not formally been installed as vice-captain ahead of Thursday's series opener in Mount Maunganui, Broad himself appears more than happy to hand the baton on to a teammate he believes is growing by the day.
"I think Popey is a great leader. He speaks really well in the group, he's got a great cricket mind and there's no doubt you can see him as a future England captain," said Broad.
The Surrey batter was more circumspect but admitted to revelling in the opportunities he has had to step up.
"For now there's no title on it. I'm just going to keep helping out where I can," Pope said.
"There's no label on it, but it might be an option they are looking at in the future. It's just good to be seen as a leader in that dressing room. Stokesy is the captain, he knows exactly how he wants to run it, but he comes up and bounces ideas off me sometimes, and he'll do the same with some of the really experienced guys in the changing room too.
"Baz McCullum and Stokesy have been great. They've allowed us young players to grow and I think each one of us feel like it's our team now.
"I'm just going to keep developing that cricket brain and if it came about in the future, great, I'll make sure I learn as much as possible before then. At the same time I realise I've got a big job at number three to keep doing. If I can keep impressing there who knows what the future holds?"
Pope's elevation represents another huge show of faith in a player who struggled to find his feet in international cricket under the previous regime. He was shuffled up and down the order, as well as in and out the team, and never quite managed to deliver on his obvious potential.
He feared he would not even be part of Stokes' plans last year, but was instead invited to make the pivotal number three position his own.
Like so many others in the current squad, he comes across as a more liberated and more fulfilled performer on the pitch and has repaid the support with fine centuries at Trent Bridge and Rawalpindi.
"However long that tough period was, and it felt like a long time, I think it allowed me to get to where I am now," he said.
"As a batting unit we're not fearing getting out now. I think we spent too long worrying about our techniques and worrying about how the bowler is going to get us out. Stokesy and Baz have been top drawer in terms of simplifying Test cricket for us all.
"At the end of the day, it is a ball coming down at you. Stop worrying about your head position, your hands the whole time."
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