England vs New Zealand: Ollie Pope at number three and other talking points ahead of 1st Test match

Ben Stokes and Kane Williamson make their final preparations ahead of the eagerly anticipated first Test match of the series.

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England cricket fans have had a three month wait, but the day is nearly upon us. England are back in action once more as they take on New Zealand at the home of cricket tomorrow, Thursday 2 June 2022 for the first fixture of the busy summer season.

It will be Ben Stokes’ first game in charge as captain after Joe Root stepped down from his role following England’s defeat in the West Indies series.

While Root will remain a pivotal member of the team, England are now preparing for a ‘new era’ of cricket as they welcome their new captain and a new coach in Brendon McCullum.

Kane Williamson and his squad have come off the back of a strong mixture of results, including two tied Test series against Bangladesh and South Africa and a 3-0 defeat to India and while New Zealand will hope to secure a more consistent result this series, England will be hopeful of ending their winning drought.

With just a few hours to go before the action starts, here are some of the biggest talking points ahead of England’s first Test match this summer…

Will the ‘new era’ come to fruition?

In every segment relating to the build-up of this Test series, whether it be written or spoken, the phrase ‘new era’ has been branded around but we will now finally be able to see what this ‘new era’ can do.

Real change will not happen overnight and the ‘new era’ will take a while to find its feet, but with a new managing director, coach and captain of the England’s men squad, Thursday’s Test match should surely feel slightly different.

However, with only two new Test debutants set for the series and the inclusion of some notoriously turbulent players when it comes to form, it’s hard to see where this ‘new era’ fits in.

The players will hope to do all the talking on the field but England will be a in a truly worrying state if New Zealand look to rattle through the top order as quickly as every other team has been able to in the past 18 months.

Ollie Pope at number three?

One bizarre outcome already of this ‘new era’ is positioning Surrey’s Ollie Pope at number three.

Stokes made it very clear when he took on the captaincy baton that he would be returning to batting at six and his predecessor would go at his preferred position of four with the Durham all-rounder saying: “Wherever Joe bats he gets runs, but his best position is at four. I feel him at four and me at six gives us a bit of experience in the gap.”

Ollie Pope dives for a ball in training as Joe Root looks onOllie Pope dives for a ball in training as Joe Root looks on
Ollie Pope dives for a ball in training as Joe Root looks on

While this makes perfect sense, Pope’s positioning at three - when he usually operates as a middle-order batter - has left many perplexed, including former England batter Mark Ramprakash.

In his column for the Guardian, Ramprakash has said: “Ollie Pope is to bat at three for the first time in his career. I am a huge fan of this, but this decision defies logic. You want players in positions where they are more likely to succeed, and though Pope has the game to be successful in recent times he has been a bit frenetic and anxious at the start of his innings and I don’t think his promotion will do anything to calm that down.”

Why was Harry Brook snubbed?

Yorkshire’s Harry Brook has been given his England callup for this Test squad for the first time in his career but has been snubbed in favour of his fellow county-man Jonny Bairstow for the first Test.

Brook has made over 50 in 10 of his 11 innings across all competitions so far this season. He is currently averaging 140 in the County Championship and has two 50s in two games in the Vitality Blast.

However, the 23-year-old will have to sit this Test out. Bairstow has seen phenomenal Test success this winter, scoring England’s only hundred in the Ashes and scoring another century against West Indies.

But, as former England captain Michael Atherton points out, “it must be so tempting to play a young man who is in that kind of form.

Atherton also noted that the Yorkshireman “will never be in better form” - while Brook may hope to disagree, he will certainly be questioning what more he can do at this stage to earn his first international cap.

England’s veterans return

After being brutally dropped against the West Indies, Stuart Broad and James Anderson have returned to the fold and will play at Lord’s over this weekend.

To say the ECB and selectors received some complaints over their omission from the March Test series might be the understatement of the year, but the situation has been rightfully rectified and it is now up to the pair who have over 1,110 Test wickets between them, to prove just how invaluable they are.

England are currently faced with an unusual conundrum of having few bowlers ready to play. Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Jofra Archer, Saqib Mahmood and Ollie Robinson are all out injured leaving limited options left for Stokes to choose from.

But, he will rest easy knowing that if anyone is going to let him down in his first Test as captain, it is highly unlikely to be either of Anderson or Broad.

England and New Zealand begins at 11am BST tomorrow, Thursday 2 June, and will be available to watch on Sky Sports Cricket.