*Image courtesy of the Camden Advertiser
I recently saw a post from Sky Sports cricket, circling Ollie Pope as England's next great batsmen. A just sentiment considering he's 22 years old, holds a 47.77 test average to go with his 61.13 first-class average. He's already a test centurion having hit 135* on the recent tour to South Africa, and has a top score of 251 for Surrey, just one of his 9 centuries in county cricket. However the comments below highlighted the dented psyche of the English sporting public, there was a real fear that this comment was premature, that the mere mention of an English cricketer being a star in the making would make that dream fade into the ether. Nobody knows what will happen, but Ollie Pope is a safe bet.
We've all enjoyed the rise of Ollie Pope. As a Surrey supporter, I've seen his progress first-hand, from his debut back in 2017 to his incredible 2018 season which saw him average over 70. Those beautiful cover drives, the footwork, the balance, the subdued confidence. It's impossible not to like what you see from Ollie.
Before that superb break-out season of 2018, Pope spent the English winter in Australia, having been selected to take part in the ECB's overseas placement programme. He was placed at Campbelltown-Camden cricket club, who play in the New South Wales Premier Cricket competition. This league is packed full of talent and historically it's been home to a whole host of players that went on to become stars, the Waugh brothers, Steven Smith, Glenn McGrath Brett Lee, Brad Haddin, David Warner, Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Strauss... you get the picture.
His winter in Australia was a springboard for Pope's superb 2018 season with Surrey. Being away from home, working with different coaches, different players and experiencing different wickets. His time at Campbelltown Camden was so successful, the clubs' vice-president, MP Chris Patterson gave him a commendation in the New South Wales parliament, saying:
Ollie has the highest runs scored and leads the club's dismissals as a wicketkeeper. Ollie played 23 games, including17 first grade games and six games in the Poidevin-Gray Shield under- 21 competition. Ollie amassed 996 runs for the season, which included three centuries, and 38 dismissals—an accomplishment Ollie should be very proud of. We certainly are.
Ollie was only the third player in the 120-year history of the Sydney first grade competition to score a ton and take five wickets in one match. That match was against the Bankstown District Cricket Club, and Ollie took five dismissals and scored 128 runs. Ollie's contribution to the Ghosts' cricket has been outstanding. Off the field, he has been an absolute gentleman and a wonderful role model with a strong work ethic. Ollie has shown respect for the game and his fellow players—a true sportsman in every sense of the word. Ollie is a fantastic trainer and he was very generous with his time, skill and experience, which benefited all the grade players at the Ghosts. His wealth of knowledge as a first-class keeper was shared with all the keepers at the club and I know they all gained from Ollie being at the club. My son, Tom, a lower grade keeper at the Ghosts, learned a great deal from training alongside Ollie. I am sure Ollie's family is extremely proud of him.
This was quickly followed by a comment from the minister for sport Stuart Ayers saying "It is a rare moment that a New South Wales member of Parliament speaks with such passion about an Englishman".
Pope took to Sydney Cricket like a duck to water scoring 114 on just his 2nd appearance for the club against a St George team that included Josh Hazlewood and Trent Copeland, two players that would go on to represent Australia at test level. He scored a 72* against Gordon, facing off against his future England team-mate Matt Parkinson, who was playing for the team at the time.
What kind of effect did Pope have during his time in Sydney, here are just a selection of quotes from the local papers that cover the team:
However, young Brit Ollie Pope was the true stand-out, hitting more than a run a ball to notch up 114 runs from 112 deliveries.
Pope smashed eight fours and three sixes before being taken by Copeland, proving his worth as the Ghosts’ star import this season.
Ollie Pope was a stand-out for the Ghosts, scoring 113 off 132, including 12 fours and a six.
Ollie Pope’s last innings on Australia soil this season helped maintain the required run rate. Joined by Jordan Browne at the crease, the two young bats added almost a century to the board before the Englishman was given LBW for 67.
Ollie would help steer Cambletown-Camden to first place in the table during his season with the club, just one year after the same team finished 20th, propping up the table. Obviously it wasn't just Ollie, but he certainly helped the club secure top spot, a position they hadn't achieved in some time.
It's clear that Ollie made a superb impression during his time in Sydney Grade Cricket. I got in touch with the Cambletown Camden team and the praise continued to flow freely, with club secretary Jason Ellsmore saying:
He was an outstanding player and more importantly a quality person.
Ollie resided at my place and he was a pleasure to look after. Apart from being a consummate professional regarding his cricket (where he worked daily on his game), there are not enough words to describe how respectful, appreciative and nice this lad is.
He is a credit to his parents, club and now England. A 'Champion bloke' as us Aussies would describe.
Ellsmore had previously spoken to the Cricket New South Wales website about Pope and how even at such a young age, they saw the potential, knowing that he was going to push on and play for England at some point, although even he didn't think it would be quite as quick:
You just knew from watching how much time this boy had, how focused he was … (everybody quietly thought) that this boy will play for England one day, but we didn’t think it would be so soon,” Ellsmore said about the latest Test debutant for England.
“When you score 994 runs across – that was including (Poidevin Gray) and all of First Grade – and he took 38 dismissals with the gloves, that was quite a reasonable addition to the side, which played a big part in the minor premiership that (the Ghosts) were involved in winning last year.”
“His three centuries were superb.”
Pope (barring injury) will almost certainly be on the tour to Australia for the Ashes in 2022 and his experience playing in Australia can't hurt his preparation come what promises to be one of the most exciting series in recent memory. Not only do England have a highly competitive batting line-up with plenty of talent, but they also finally have the pace to trouble the Australians on wickets that tend to offer plenty for the seamers. This is a huge if, but if England can go into the 5 tests with both Jofra Archer and Mark Wood available and potentially Olly Stone as well, it ensures we have the capacity to fight fire with fire.
Ollie certainly enjoyed a golden summer in Australia, and it could be argued that the sun hasn't stopped shining on him since. Over the last two years, he's won a County Championship with Surrey, made his Test Debut, made runs across the board and hit his first England century. There have been a couple of injuries along the way, but Pope remains the best batting prospect we've seen on these shores since Joe Root scored a determined 73 on debut against India in the 2012/13 tour.
Speaking to the media, Pope was thankful for his time in Sydney and credited it with kick-starting his 2018 season:
“I went to Sydney and I was on my own two feet a bit, especially in terms of my cricket,”
“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"
Don't apologise for getting excited about Pope, don't concern yourself with "the hype", because if you can't get excited about an extremely talented young batsman coming through, what can you get excited about?