BY MARCUS HOOK
Ollie Pope has credited a winter in Australia for his exceptional batting performances this season that have led to the Surrey youngster taking to the international stage in only his 16th first-class outing.
The 20-year-old has also been reflecting on his Test debut, at Lord’s last week, admitting he wasn’t afraid to draw on the experiences of his new team-mates; many of whom he has grown up watching on television.
“I tried to pick the brains of the batters who had debuted at a young age,” said Pope, who had not even made his County Championship debut a year ago.
“I just tried to learn as much as I could, so I then knew what to expect. They were all really good about it, Joe Root especially.
“A few of the Indian lads were eyeing me up a bit, so, as I went out to bat, Rooty came to meet me halfway. It wasn’t a huge amount of runs, 28, but I came in at a fairly important time and helped rebuild for a bit.
“I didn’t feel at my best, but I felt at home. Like in a county game, sometimes you don’t always feel at your very best, but you find a way of getting to 30. I felt I did that, but hopefully the best is to come.
“I’ve had a good season so far, and from the people I’ve spoken to, they’ve given me the confidence in my own game to take the next step.
You hear stories of the greats of the game, people like Alastair Cook making his debut at 20, so, yeah, it’s not like it hasn’t been done before.”
Even in the lead up to the Test, Pope said he wasn’t overawed by the occasion.
“I had played a T20 match on the Sunday, so I needed to get back into red-ball mode again. By the time we got to Thursday, I felt I was as ready to play a game of cricket as I’ve ever been.
Knowing that, in your head, psychologically is pretty important.
“I walked into the press room two days before the Test and there were about 45 people and loads of cameras. I’ve never had that before. I think I’ve had three at most. And when I was on the Nursery Ground, every time I looked up every camera seemed to be pointing in my face, so that was a bit different.
It didn’t change the way I practised or played. If it did, I’d be a bit worried.”
But while England were getting hammered in the Ashes last winter, Pope was playing grade cricket for Campbelltown-Camden in Sydney as part of the ECB’s overseas placement programme.
The ECB have since scrapped the programme for reasons of cost, or maybe because it has produced a youngster who appears to be to the manner born.
Pope scored nearly 1,000 runs for the club and was even commended in the New South Wales parliament by a local MP for being an absolute gentleman and a true sportsman in every sense of the word for his community coaching work.
“I went to Sydney and I was on my own two feet a bit, especially in terms of my cricket,” said the 20-year-old, who became the first England batsmen since Michael Vaughan in 1999 to make his Test debut batting at number four.
“Playing week in, week out on Saturdays and Sundays. Just getting to know what your strengths are and what your weaknesses are – learning from your dismissals, but also the games that you play well in and scored runs in.
That played a massive part and helped me kick off the season over here pretty quickly.
“It didn’t feel like it was the first game of the year, against Hampshire. That was massive. It helped me kick off the season as I wanted to and, obviously, I found a bit of form and a method. For now, I’ll keep riding the wave, I guess.
“I was told, with players away, I’d get the first few games. I told the management I understood Jason Roy and Mark Stoneman would be back at some stage, but I wanted to put them in a position where they couldn’t drop me.”
Pope is eyeing Surrey’s first County Championship title since 2002.
“There’s no better feeling that winning a four-day game because of the amount of effort you’ve put in,” says Pope.
“You’ve put in the work with a group of lads for four days straight. Winning the Championship would be the pinnacle.”
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