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Ollie Pope’s coming of age!

by Justin Rourke

Ollie Pope has been the next great thing in English cricket for a long time now. Such is his talent that the expectations have been enormous. Those who played against him at school and age group level talk of a sublime batsman who was also a very good wicket keeper.

His entry into first class cricket was as a batsman with Foakes ahead of him as a keeper. Still today he averages over 50 in first class cricket, many of his peers (Crawley, Joe Clarke, Lawrence, Hameed) don’t average 40 in the first class game.

His talent saw him make his test debut at no4 which seemed a little high at the time, especially given his first class experience all coming at no5 and6.

In New Zealand he took the test match wicket keeping gloves with no reserve on tour. A test match was the first time he kept in first class cricket. He did it again whilst batting at no3 in Pakistan last year (a nod to his mentor, The Gaffer).

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Pope looks more natural behind the stumps than both Buttler and Bairstow and there have been times when I have wondered if that is his future, an impish attacking keeper batsman at no6 or 7. Also worth noting he is out best bat pad fielder and one of the better fielders in any position.

His unbeaten 135 in 2020 against South Africa looked to be the arrival of Ollie Pope at test level. It was a classy innings and the comparisons in style with both Joe Root and Ian Bell only served to increase the expectation.

Here we have a golden talent who averages 50 in first class cricket, scores 100’s at a good strike rate and looks like Ian Bell and Joe Roots love child whilst he is doing it!

However, much like that England team under Joe Root, things just did not kick on for Pope and he found himself at a crossroads. Still only 24 but mummering’s of Ramprakash in the background … a great unfulfilled talent.

2022 and Ollie Pope picks up the phone to the new captain Ben Stokes to tell him he wants to bat at no3. Very astute as a start point because no one else wanted to, but also a risk as he had never batted there before for England or Surrey. Fair play Popey!

Since that time, he has complied 5 test centuries across 16 matches at an average of 46. He is second to Joe Root in terms of England test runs across that time frame.

When Ollie arrives at the crease he is a bundle of nervous energy and can look a little uncomfortable, he reminds me so much of Ricky Ponting across the first 20 balls/20 runs. The thing with Ricky was that once he got through that he always made you pay.

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In his innings in the 1st Test, Pope has done exactly that, no one from either side seized on being “in” the way Pope did, his score of 196 was more than double the next best of 87. Being a nervous starter is fine, all players are vulnerable at the start of an innings but once you are in, make them pay.

Hartley was very good too, but he had something to bowl at because of Pope. The blueprint of the very successful (but sedate) Strauss/Flower side was big runs. The win in Australia was built on the pressure that big runs bring, that pressure extends when you score big and quickly as it takes the draw out of play.

Ollie Pope is 26 years old, he is England’s test vice captain and played an incredible innings away in India against a superb team. Welcome to the big time Ollie, you are a class act.

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