After cementing his Test spot during England’s 3-1 win in South Africa, Ollie Pope now has his sights set on breaking into the ODI and T20i sides, too.
The 22-year old announced himself as one of the brightest prospects in the world with stellar performances with the bat, finishing up with 266 runs at an average of 88.66. He was the fourth highest English run-scorer behind Dom Sibley, Ben Stokes and Joe Root. However, he played two innings fewer than all of them, missing the first Test at Centurion as one of the many casualties of the bug that affected preparations for that defeat.
He played a key part in all three wins: top-scoring in the first innings at Cape Town with 61, a maiden hundred of 135 not out to push England to 499 in Port Elizabeth, and then contributing 56 to a total of 400 at The Wanderers.
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During his innings, particularly the century, he showcased his white-ball prowess with inventive shots behind the wicket and a knack for hitting gaps. It was in limited-overs cricket that Pope earned his professional debut when picked in the XI for Surrey’s Royal London One-Day Cup semi-final against Yorkshire in August 2016. He would make his first-class and Championship debut the following year.
Compared to his red-ball record, Pope’s white-ball output has been relatively muted with no centuries in either of the two formats and five fifties across List A 25 innings. His averages, though, are pretty good – 37.55 in List A and 28.30, at a strike rate of 134.06 as a middle-order player in Twenty20.
As such, he does not feature in either the ODI or T20 squads in South Africa. But he is certainly keen on changing that.
“My dream is to play all three formats for England,” said Pope. “I see myself as a white-ball player as well but our team is pretty established at the moment, they’ve got a great batting line-up, a great middle order so if I want to get in that white-ball side I’ve got to bide my time, score my runs in county cricket and hopefully keep scoring some Test runs and that’ll look after itself.”
The issue for Pope will be breaking into an engine room that is very well stocked. Even his extra suit as a wicketkeeper is well catered for with Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow the first and second choice who are already in the XI. But for the Surrey batsman who has taken on every challenge and succeeded so far, you would not bet against him coming good on this.
He, along with the other youngsters in the side like Sibley, Zak Crawley, Dom Bess and Sam Curran have impressed with their maturity on and off the field. But though the manner of Pope’s displays, which included seven catches, suggests comfort at this level, he is now a known quantity.
Teams around the world have got a good look at him now. Debutants at every level get a period where they can shine as unknown quantities, profiting off the opposition’s uncertainty over your pros and cons.
After seven Tests, Pope boasts an average of 47.77 that he’d do well to keep up there. He is well aware of what now lies ahead and he will look around his dressing room at the senior players who held firm as youngsters for inspiration.
“I think you go through that whatever level you play at,” Pope said. “It happens in county cricket. When you’re first starting out no-one knows what you do, they might bowl to your strengths. Then they realise what your strengths are and bowl differently. But if I just keep working on my technique and my temperament at the crease and whatever flaws I have got, if I can brush them out the way, then I’ll be ready to cope with whatever comes my way.
“You’re learning from Rooty and Stokesy – they set a benchmark from a batting point of view. They’re always looking ahead, always thinking about that next series coming up and how they can prepare themselves best for that. That’s definitely what I’ll be learning to do from now on as well.”
As it happens, it seemed like Root was taking cues from Pope during the last Test. The England captain scored 59 in the first innings and put on 101 for the fifth wicket with Pope. Among Root’s runs was an uppercut over third man off a pacey delivery from South Africa’s Anrich Nortje. It was a shot Pope had played many times already on the tour.
“It’s quite funny. Rooty’s been one of my favourite players as I’ve been growing up over the last 10 years – watching him play has been awesome. He hit a shot – one of those ramps – and said ‘I learned that one off you!’ That’s a big compliment from one of my favourite players growing up.”
Pope will rejoin his idol in March with the Test side for their next assignment in Sri Lanka. Pope was part of the original touring party here in November 2018, but left after the first Test to join the Lions in Abu Dhabi after Ben Foakes was drafted in for the injured Jonny Bairstow and scored a century on debut while keeping immaculately.
The pitches in Sri Lanka will offer him a different challenge, but it is one he is relishing.
“It’s going to be completely different cricket to what it is out here from a batting point of view,” Pope said. “We play on pretty quick wickets out here and you might not face many overs of spin.
“In Sri Lanka, they might open with spin. But from that time out there, I learned that you can go about scoring runs in different ways. I saw how Foakesy went about his innings, he batted time and backed his defence and picked off bad balls. He had a lot of success, then Jos [Buttler] had a lot of success as well. He probably took the more positive option – a lot of sweeping and you look at the scoreboard and he’d be 30 off 20 before you knew it. There’s two different ways to go about it.”
If the last month has shown us anything, it’s that whichever method Pope opts for will be the right one.