Ben Stokes has called on Ollie Pope to take his new role as England’s official vice-captain seriously amid concerns about Stokes’ fitness ahead of the first Ashes Test on June 16. Stokes, who aims to participate fully in all five Tests, did not bowl in the recent match against Ireland and displayed discomfort in his left knee. With Stokes’ fitness uncertain, Pope may be called upon to deputize, even if only temporarily.
Although Pope has only captained one first-class match for Surrey, he has been groomed as a future leader for more than six months. He captained England in warm-up games against the Lions in Abu Dhabi and a New Zealand XI in Hamilton during Stokes’ absence. Rob Key, England’s managing director, initially downplayed the importance of appointing a vice-captain but later recognized its significance, influenced by the impactful presence of Moeen Ali in the white-ball setup.
Stokes and former New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum advocated for Pope to be made vice-captain formally after his stint as deputy during the winter matches. The appointment was confirmed before the Ireland Test, signaling Pope’s significant progress as a player and his responsibility at No. 3. Stokes expressed his belief that naming Pope as vice-captain was the right decision, citing Pope’s exceptional performance with a double-hundred on his vice-captaincy debut.
Pope considers the vice-captaincy a great honor but notes that it will not bring significant changes from his previous role. He emphasizes the importance of providing his opinion and challenging Stokes when necessary, rather than simply agreeing with him. As the Ashes looms, Pope anticipates being tested alongside Stokes and the rest of the team, and he views his role as providing a different perspective to aid decision-making.
Stokes, who valued his own reinstatement as vice-captain four years ago, emphasized the seriousness with which he took the position and urged Pope to do the same. Stokes and former captain Joe Root worked well together, valuing their roles and influencing each other positively. Stokes encourages Pope to embrace the same approach and commitment he exhibited during his tenure.
While Pope expects Stokes to do everything possible to remain on the field throughout the summer, he feels confident in his ability to implement Stokes’ strategies if the need arises. Having played together extensively over the past year, Pope has gained a deep understanding of Stokes’ approach to bowling, field placements, and creating challenging situations for opposing batsmen. Pope believes he can successfully implement Stokes’ ideas should the situation demand it.