Ollie Pope: The 21-year-old who can solve England’s batting woes


Every now and again a young cricketer comes along that makes cricket supporters sit-up and take note.

Despite the rawness on the county circuit, they possess a natural talent that can be transferred onto the international scene like a duck to water; step forward Ollie Pope.

A Surrey boy, Ollie Pope played in every age group his home county had to offer. From playing in the under-9 side to making his first-class debut in 2017, Pope was the head student of the magnificent Surrey academy. Breaking through at a similar rate to the likes of Sam Curran and Amar Virdi, Pope had been the beneficiary of a well-structured Surrey set-up that allowed a number of home grown players to prosper.

So it should have been no surprise that the Chelsea born boy settled into the first-class game as he did; after all, this what had long been planned for him. Despite being only 19, an adolescent in batting years, he was ready.

Two years later and Ollie Pope can already argue to be the senior batsman in Surrey’s lineup. Averaging a tick under 59, Pope’s effortless transition into the supposed arduous day-to-day nature of county cricket had been seamless. Batting at five or six, the young batsman was given the licence to play freely without feeling the natural burden of top-order stroke-making.

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Four products of the Surrey academy made history as it was the first time since the Second World War that a county had fielded a team in the County Championship containing four teenagers – Photo: Daily Mail

Whilst Surrey were keen to steadily promote Pope up the order, England opted to take the leap of faith. Drawing comparisons to when a fresh-faced Joe Root burst onto Test scene against India in 2012, the England selectors felt Pope could replicate his exploits. Seven years later, Pope faced the same opposition.

Talk about being thrown into the deep end. Not only was he facing bowlers of a whole different calibre than what he had experienced previously, he was now summoned to bat at four, a totally unfamiliar position. At the height of the British summer where the ball swings round corners, England’s top-order failures meant more often than not, Ollie Pope was arriving at the crease 20 odd for 2.

Yet the sightless decision to bat him at four wasn’t the most bizarre thing. For years, England have banged the drum about giving an out of form player “one game more than one game less”- essentially they want to give an English player, usually a batsman, ample time to prove themselves on the international stage. However, Ollie Pope was given just two matches. Four innings. Every one of those batting at four.

For a young man, Pope would have been forgiven if he was to bury his head in the sand and his confidence knocked for six (no pun intended).  Throw into the equation a dislocated shoulder at the beginning of the following season, Pope could and should have faced an uphill battle to regain form and composure.

But the running theme in the career of Ollie Pope is that he simply takes everything in his stride. As we speak, in the three County Championship matches he has played so far this season, he averages a mammoth 120.66 – second on the first-class batting average table.

Yep, you guessed it, only that man Joe Root averages higher this campaign.

In a day and age where young boys and girls are awestruck with reverse sweeps, switch-hitting and whatever next, Pope proved that he can bat long periods with an intelligence to read the varying game situations. His last first-class outing saw the Surrey man strike an unbeaten 221, from 337 balls. Batting at number four may I add.

Whilst sections of traditional supporters constantly bang the drum that no budding batsman has the “Boycott-esque” resilience or the correct technique against the red ball, Oliver Pope argues otherwise. The innings demonstrated a special ability to occupy the crease whilst being unwilling to neglect defensive technique.

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Photo: Alamy/The Times

With the Ashes staying in Australia and English Test cricket a victim of a heavy white ball onus, the longest format requires an overhaul if they are to regain the urn down under. During their one-day success over the past four years, the purest form of the game has been neglected and perhaps underestimated.

The recent love affair selectors have had with white ball cricketers has certainly run it’s course. The belief that these players will adjust to the swinging dukes ball is ignorant and tarnishes the credentials of county players figuring in the first-class game.

Yes, England’s World Cup winners are multi-faceted and the best in their field, but most are white-ball specialists. The cut and dry of it is they simply do not have the technique or nous to grind and bat in the longest form.

As Albert Einstein famously said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

How many times have England collapsed over the past four years? How many times have England failed to build on a Test or series win? The favouritism towards certain players needs to stop and selectors James Taylor and Ed Smith need to pick on merit.

With coach Trevor Bayliss departing after the Ashes, change is on the horizon. Is the farewell of a white-ball focused coach the trigger England need to reboot their Test match game? The New Zealand series begins in November and fresh faces are expected to be on the plane.

However, none will be more deserving than Ollie Pope. A generational talent that if managed correctly, can be at the forefront of English Test cricket for years to come.

Like Andrew Strauss and Eoin Morgan did with England’s one-day fortunes after the 2015 World Cup debacle, there is no reason as to why Ollie Pope cannot spearhead something similar.


About Author

Football, Boxing and Cricket correspondent from Hampshire, covering southern sport. Editor and Head of Boxing at Prost International. Accreditated EFL & EPL journalist.

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