A couple of weeks ago at Old Trafford, with the series on the line, Ollie Pope walked out to face a West Indian barrage of fast bowling. At that stage, the Three Lions found themselves at 92/3, having been invited to bat by Jason Holder.
Rather swiftly, that score morphed into 122/4, thereby casting Ollie Pope and Jos Buttler in the eye of the storm – a tempest that had only grown more severe considering the latter was perhaps battling for his Test career.
Over the course of the next few hours, Jos Buttler was able to bury his demons and compile a substantial score. More importantly though, he was accorded the platform to do so as an effervescent and flamboyant 22-year-old Ollie Pope blazed away to a half-century at the other end.
For the keen onlookers, that essay by Ollie Pope didn’t represent an anomaly, rather highlighting a trend that he’s managed to stitch together over the past few seasons.
And, while that pattern first came to prominence in the confines of domestic cricket, the batsman from Surrey has ensured that that has radiated onto the international stage as well.
Against the West Indies, Ollie Pope, who has often drawn comparisons to a certain Ian Bell, drove the ball elegantly and barely broke a sweat as he manipulated the field, much like the former England batsman.
At times, the visitors were even content to play the waiting game – such was the impact of his innings in the opening exchanges of the encounter. And, whenever the bowlers erred, Ollie Pope was more than happy to rummage through his rather elaborate range of strokes and unfurl them one at a time, drawing a collective gasp from those in attendance (virtually).
More encouragingly though, Ollie Pope, courtesy that essay, portrayed the stomach for a fight and the proclivity to overcome adversity with panache; garnished with the adequate amount of grit and graft.
And, that, could help the right-hander establish himself as one of England’s most vital Test cogs.
At the turn of the year, during the Three Lions’ trip to South Africa, they were panned for their exuberant and at times, overeager approach to Test match cricket.
Consequently, they decided to abandon that firebrand attacking approach that encompassed all formats, instead opting for old-school English red-ball openers of the ilk of Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley.
Rory Burns, who had been brought into the fold much earlier, seemed to be cut out from a similar cloth, meaning that England had certainly prioritized doggedness over the occasional flashes of brilliance.
However, that change in approach at the top also meant that batsmen slightly lower down the order were now entrusted with the responsibility of taking games by the scruff of the neck and setting up matches.
Thus, the presence of a player like Ollie Pope, who seems blessed with a vast array of strokes and also seems capable of counter-attacking/attacking, provides England another batting dimension altogether.
To put things into perspective, the right-hander came out to bat in the first innings when the chips were down against Pakistan at Old Trafford. Mohammad Abbas and Shaheen Shah Afridi had ripped through the top order and it looked as if Joe Root couldn’t buy a run, even if he sold his lavish mansion.
Yet, the bustling young lad from Surrey came out to the crease and immediately stamped his authority, clipping Abbas for a couple of boundaries. He then took control against Naseem Shah and optimized every scoring opportunity that was presented.
In the process, England, who were once staring at another ridiculous top order collapse, had suddenly established a foothold from where they could start eating into Pakistan’s first innings total.
Ollie Pope scored his maiden Test ton against South Africa in 2019
A few months earlier, against South Africa at Port Elizabeth, England found themselves in a similar spot of bother at 148/4. Though the top order had effectively blunted the threat of the new ball, the lack of runs meant that the Three Lions were still on the back foot, considering the situation of the match.
A 203-run partnership with Ben Stokes later, Ollie Pope, armed with his debut Test ton, had turned the tables on the South Africans and even ensured that the momentum had shifted completely, in light of the late-innings pyrotechnics by Sam Curran and himself.
In fact, through that essay, Ollie Pope scored at a higher strike rate than Ben Stokes, something that might not have been expected, especially with the all-rounder having batted for more than 200 deliveries.
Effectively, Ollie Pope’s inclusion into the English side has allowed them to be more cautious at the start of their essay and weather whatever gales the new ball might boast of.
And, that has only been possible due to Ollie Pope’s tendency to be busy and his ability to take the game away from the opposition in the middle order. Of course, that’s for when the requisite situation arises. Else, he is pretty well equipped to bide his time too, thereby showcasing the myriad strings to his batting bow.
Additionally, his recent upturn in form would also allow England to flirt with the idea of playing five specialist bowlers plus Ben Stokes – a decision that felt vindicated at Old Trafford against Pakistan.
Though Chris Woakes would have to pull his weight massively for that to work regularly, it certainly enables England to have the flexibility to chop and change, based on the conditions and the opposition.
Most tellingly, with Ollie Pope at No.5, Ben Stokes wouldn’t be burdened with looking after the run rate, especially when England are chasing matches or are trying to steal a march.
The all-rounder would then be able to stick to his defensive game and force the opposition to blink first – something that isn’t too beyond the stretch of the imagination taking into account Ben Stokes’ relatively water-tight technique.
Thus, at this juncture, it seems that England have unearthed a gem in Ollie Pope, considering the right-hander’s tendency to mediate superbly between the extravagant and the efficient.
However, the Three Lions must also be extremely careful and not place him under the scanner too often, for that could be detrimental to a player of his caliber.
Ollie Pope, despite his recent prowess with the willow, possesses a few grey areas that could lead to his undoing, on occasions.
For example, the right-hander is slightly compulsive when it comes to wafting at deliveries outside off stump while he has also displayed a propensity to remain stuck at the crease against length deliveries. Furthermore, he has been guilty of driving aerially through the off side.
Hence, it seems imperative that England keep faith in the youngster when the going gets tough for him, at least on the personal front. Considering he is only 22, it seems almost certain that he would have to undergo the harsh trials and tribulations of international cricket over the upcoming seasons.
Yet, during his 11-Test career so far, he has proven that he might be worth the patience and indeed, worthy enough to hold fort for the Three Lions in the middle order, for years to come.
For that to happen though, Ollie Pope also needs to trust the ingredients that have enabled him to serve a delectable delicacy in his brief international stint.
And as far comparisons with Ian Bell go, Ollie Pope would’ve enjoyed a stellar career if he scales as many peaks as the former English batsman.
Yet, courtesy the appetite Ollie Pope has shown recently, you wouldn’t want to bet on him outdoing his predecessor, would you?
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