The Ashes: Should England stick with Rory Burns and Ollie Pope for Boxing Day Test in Melbourne?


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Rob Key says he would drop Rory Burns and Ollie Pope for the third Ashes Test in Melbourne

Rob Key says he would drop Rory Burns and Ollie Pope for the third Ashes Test in Melbourne

Rory Burns and Ollie Pope – stick or twist?

England’s Surrey duo are under pressure for their Ashes places after two Tests, with opener Burns averaging 12.75 and middle-order batter Pope’s average of 12.00 coming amid toils against Australia spinner Nathan Lyon.

So, should England – 2-0 down with three to play after a 275-run hammering in Adelaide – persevere with Burns, 31, and Pope, 23, as they look to fight back in the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne?

Speaking on the Sky Sports Cricket Podcast, Rob Key said it was time for a change, while Nasser Hussain looked at why England might keep the batters in situ…

RORY BURNS

Ashes 2021-22: 51 runs @ 12.75, best of 35 in second innings at Adelaide
Test record: 1,763 runs in 31 matches @ 30.92, three hundreds, 11 fifties

Burns is the only other England batter, after Joe Root, to score a Test century in 2021

Burns is the only other England batter, after Joe Root, to score a Test century in 2021

Nasser Hussain: Should you pick people just because they are doing enough? Does a 30-odd for Burns in his last innings keep him in the side? Every selection has to be long term, so is Burns the future?

The one thing I will say about Burns is that I think he is a fairly gutsy cricketer. To have the technique he has, be successful and get the runs he has got, I think you have to have a bit about you. I would want a bit of character and fight going into that MCG Test match

Also, don’t change just for the sake of it. If you change Burns you are going to have to go back to Zak Crawley, who averages 11 this year in Test cricket. Let’s not just presume you are changing for the better by going with Crawley. With no real warm-up games, he has only been in the nets and then could suddenly be out there at the MCG against Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc.

Former England assistant coach Paul Farbrace says England don't have enough batters who are able to cope with the scrutiny of Test cricket

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Former England assistant coach Paul Farbrace says England don’t have enough batters who are able to cope with the scrutiny of Test cricket

Former England assistant coach Paul Farbrace says England don’t have enough batters who are able to cope with the scrutiny of Test cricket

Rob Key: When you are selecting teams, I would have thought that you were looking at the upside. What is a player’s good? If the penny drops with this player, are they going to be a sensational Test cricketer?

What is Burns’ good? Is he someone, at 31 years of age, who is going to go on and churn out runs, like Sir Alastair Cook, like Sir Andrew Strauss, or are we, in two or three Tests from now, going to be saying, ‘he has a lot of moving parts, a lot of problems with his technique’?

Are we constantly going to be in this state of flux? I sort of feel like where we are, whereas I feel with someone like Crawley, or Dan Lawrence, that while they could average 10 or 20 for the year, they could also find something that turns them into really good Test cricketers for a long time.

That’s where I would go if I were England. I would start thinking of the upside, not someone who might guts me out a few runs and get me through a game at the MCG. Let’s think about who is going to be our batting mainstay for years to come.

OLLIE POPE

Ashes 2021-22: 48 runs @ 12.00, best of 35 in first innings at Brisbane
Test record: 1,013 runs in 22 matches @ 29.79, one hundred, six fifties

Nasser Hussain says Pope has been too frenetic, especially against Australia spinner Nathan Lyon

Nasser Hussain says Pope has been too frenetic, especially against Australia spinner Nathan Lyon

Nasser: Frenetic sums him up – frenetic definitely against Lyon. England have generally played Lyon pretty well off the back foot but Pope still believes he can get down the pitch to him. Pope is all over the place with his game-plan against Lyon, who gets real drop on the ball, and that is immediately putting him under pressure. His brain is a little bit scrambled.

He is a touch player. When he goes through the season playing for Surrey and gets on a roll, he will go hundred, hundred, double hundred. A power hitter like Eoin Morgan can have three months off and then come in and power hit like he has not missed any cricket but when you are a touch player, I think you need to keep playing

A tour like this will put Pope under pressure as he is not getting any runs in the games and then in between matches there are no state games. It’s just the nets and you don’t get into that much rhythm in the nets because there is no Starc in the nets, no Lyon getting drop. Somehow, Pope needs to occupy the crease and realise it will get easier.

Pope was out for five and four during England's defeat to Australia in Adelaide

Pope was out for five and four during England’s defeat to Australia in Adelaide

Now that England have given him two games, I would probably give him another game. It seems like a long time ago now but two games ago he got 81 against India so there is a bit of currency in that. There are enough coaches out there in Australia. If Pope is looking frenetic in the nets and nicking off all the time, you would have to make that call and change it.

Rob: Everything about him suggests he is going to be a really good player but the one thing you cannot see with people is their mental toughness, their capacity to score runs and get through those tough times. Some people are busy, like Marnus Labuschagne, but Pope looks like he is doing it because he has no confidence and doesn’t back his defence against Lyon.

Crawley has a more simplistic technique and is more attacking than Burns. When he opened against South Africa a few years ago, he threw momentum back England’s way, which is not really what Burns and Haseeb Hameed do.

Rob Key on Zak Crawley

It’s like he’s going ‘right, I’m going to do something’. He’s done that now for almost 20 Tests. His test is to prove that while he has all the shots and the technique, is he mentally up for Test cricket? He is going to have to prove that. Whether he gets the chance in the next game, I don’t know.

He would be one of those I would have in the firing line. He gets a lot of opportunities because people think he looks great and you are waiting for the moment he is going to be the next Joe Root, but he just looks a long way away from that mentally.

So I would say thank you to Burns and go in with Crawley – I think it’s time to look forward. I would also probably take out Pope and bring in Lawrence, who I think has played pretty well at times. He is not as aesthetically pleasing as Pope but equally as impressive if he gets going.





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